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7. Sculpture, Craft, and Installation Art
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7. Sculpture, Craft, and Installation Art

The extent to which some of the evidence for the textual history of
a piece of sculpture can be found in the object itself varies according to
the material out of which the work is made, just as it does in the case of
two-dimensional works (that is, essentially two-dimensional ones, despite
the three-dimensional surface of paint or collage). Sculptures produced
by cutting material away, like those in marble or wood, do not readily
provide evidence of previous drafts. Any cuts that the sculptor regarded
as mistakes are obliterated by new cuts or were made to fit into a revised
plan for the area involved. Analysis by a textual critic may suggest likely
spots where such alterations occurred, but no editorial emendation would
follow because the artist's final intentions are reflected in those altera-
tions. (It is as if a writer, having made a slip of the pen, incorporated the
accidental reading into the final form of the sentence—an analogy that
can have an exact sculptural parallel, when a letter-cutter makes a mis-
take in carving an inscription in stone or wood.) And no one would be
likely to propose recreating a hypothetical earlier intention at the price
of destroying the final one—or would be allowed to undertake the task,
if proposed, in any form other than a replica. On the other hand, sculp-
tures produced by casting or by a process of building up or adding on, as
with some works in metal, glass, or other materials (where separate units
are affixed to each other), may on occasion offer more internal evidence
of revision, but rarely on the scale of what technology has uncovered
beneath the surfaces of paintings. External evidence, as in sketches or
models, may of course exist, as it may for works of any genre; and such
evidence, when it exists at all, is more likely to be the only evidence than
is the case with painting.

The issues faced by editors of sculpture were discussed in a front-page
article in the New York Times on 15 July 2003, written by Alan Riding to
explain the international controversy aroused by plans to clean Michel-
angelo's David. Riding asked, "Should the marble colossus be restored to
its original perfection or simply cleaned of grime? Or should it learn to
live with the inevitable streaks and blotches of venerable old age?" These


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two questions, though not carefully phrased, allude to the two basic ap-
proaches available to all editors: the critical approach, in which altera-
tions are made with the goal of recreating a previous version of a work
(as intended at some past moment but not fully realized in any surviving
artifact); and the documentary, in which no changes are made to the
inherited state of a work, thus preserving the cumulative effects of its his-
tory. The former, as set out by Riding, subsumes two activities, restoring
and cleaning. But it is important to understand that cleaning is a form of
restoring, for its goal is the restoration of a work's earlier appearance. And
Riding's use of the word "simply" in connection with cleaning implies,
incorrectly, that it is necessarily less intrusive or less a matter of judgment
than the kind of restoring that involves additions. In cleaning marble, for
example, a decision has to be made not only about how much to take off
but also between a dry method (using brushes and rubbing) and a wet one
(using poultices), each of which has a different effect on the pores of the
stone and produces a different look.

Even though cleaning certainly involves critical judgment, there is un-
deniably a widespread perception that a restoration consisting of cleaning
alone is more conservative (that is, safer) than one that also includes such
actions as filling cracks and nicks or supplying a replacement element (like
the marble and plaster substitute toe that was added to the David in 1991).
The argument that a less intrusive procedure (whatever it may be) is more
justifiable can perhaps be supported on practical grounds for works in
tangible media, though it can never be supported logically. It is reminis-
cent of the claim made with pride by some literary editors that they have
tried to keep their alterations to a minimum. But in a critical edition one
must make whatever changes are necessary to bring about the desired
goal, and there is no virtue in doing less than that out of respect for the
misguided notion that a small number of changes is desirable in itself. But
such editions do not affect the documentary evidence, whereas in the case
of sculpture and other works in physical media there are good practical
grounds for protecting such evidence at the price of editorial illogic.

In any case there would be no possibility of restoring the authori-
ally intended texts of many sculptures, particularly those kept outdoors
and made of materials that can be irreversibly affected by exposure to
weather. When Riding asked whether the David should be "restored to
its original perfection," he knew that he was not describing a realizable
goal, for later in the article he quoted a restorer who pointed out that
"there is not one millimeter of its original surface left"—partly as a re-
sult of weather damage, partly because of an 1843 cleaning that used
hydrochloric acid. The application of a new surface, though a theoretical
editorial possibility, would surely not be permitted, and it probably should
not be permitted, because one could persuasively argue that in this situ-


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ation the editorial emendation is too conjectural to force on all viewers
of the work (unlike what happens with editorial conjectures in literature,
which leave readers free to experience the work without them). Even in
cases where the surface is not severely damaged, bringing a work back to
"its original perfection" would always be conjectural, as critical editing
necessarily is, and Riding's statement—like any expression of the goal
of critical restoration—should include wording that acknowledges the
contingencies inherent in such an aim. One must also remember, when
speaking of sculpture, that weather-produced alterations may sometimes
actually produce authorially intended texts, for sculptors may take into
account the changes (as in the colors of metals) that their materials will
undergo. Although there is always reason to be interested in textual shifts
over time, even when not intended by the creators of works, here is a situ-
ation in which some later changes—brought about by the course of time
and not by a scholarly editor—can be accepted as representing authorial

The attempt to restore the intended texts of some modern sculptures
poses an additional difficulty in that these sculptures may contain a wider
range of fragile materials than earlier sculptures do. When such elements
show deterioration or damage, conservators hope to find replacement
parts; but identifying the source of the materials and trying to learn whether
they are still available are not easy tasks. For this reason Carol Mancusi-
Ungaro, now the director of conservation at the Whitney Museum, began
in the mid-1980s a video oral-history project in which artists (painters as
well as sculptors) are asked to give advice on the conservation of their own
works (see Randy Kennedy's account, 29 June 2006). These conversations
are valuable documents in ways that go beyond their original purpose,
for artists' comments on the specific materials they used naturally lead to
broader reflections on what they meant to convey in their works. But the
textual usefulness of these interviews is not as straightforward as some
might imagine. Any specific identifications of materials and their sources,
when an artist's memory is accurate, can indeed be helpful in restoring a
text; but one must remember that any recommendations as to what ought
to be done reflect the artist's thinking at the time of the conversation and
may, if carried out, produce a new version of the work. The result of an
interview, then, may be to provide one more stage of authorial intention
for the conservator-editor (who can select only one) to consider.

There are of course many other three-dimensional objects, the prod-
ucts of human creativity just as sculpture is, that are not usually called
"sculpture." Conventionally these objects have been regarded as examples
of "craft" or "design" or "decorative art" rather than of "fine art," but
this distinction does not have an ontological basis, or even one founded
on the genres of works involved. Fortunately art museums, and not simply


Page 27
museums with anthropological interests, have increasingly recognized the
importance of "crafts," and specialized craft museums have also been es-
tablished. For present purposes, it is not necessary to worry about these
divisions, for the same points can be made about the texts of such objects
as about the texts of those usually called sculptures. This point, though
not stated in terms of "texts," was at the heart of a 1990 conference held
at the American Craft Museum in New York (and reported by Roberta
Smith on 22 January 1990), where George A. Kubler reiterated (in the
words of an earlier book of his) that "the idea of art can be expanded to
embrace the whole range of man-made things." Because many of those
things usually regarded as craft are utilitarian objects, the study of their
original states can be particularly difficult, owing to the wear that comes
with use and to the fact that people rarely hesitate to alter their utensils,
furniture, and clothing when alterations will improve (in their view) the
functioning of the objects.

One may justifiably be interested in the authorially intended texts of
such objects (whether created by anonymous artisans or famous silver-
smiths, cabinetmakers, and couturiers) as well as the texts that evolved
through use and the passage of time. The textual stages that are tradi-
tionally preferred vary according to the medium: curators of silver wish
to remove tarnish (as grime is lifted from paintings), whereas specialists
in old furniture prize the patina it acquires over time. These are simply
matters of convention, for every stage in the life-story of every object is
of historical and aesthetic interest. Even so, there is a particular appeal in
the current state of any utilitarian object, since it bears the traces of the
object's shared life with human beings. For this reason Brian Murphy, in
his 2005 book on Persian rugs, The Root of Wild Madder, takes the view that
wear and what might be called imperfections (such as awkward repairs)
are not objectionable. As Kubler eloquently put it at the craft conference
(making the case in fact for the social approach to all art): "to be in use
among the young who transmute and re-enact the work of the dead is the
best of all eternities." None of this negates an interest in the earlier (or
earliest) states of objects; but it does suggest that the destruction of later
evidence in an effort to bring back an earlier state may often be harder to
justify for "crafts" than for "arts" in the minds of many people.

Stained-glass art, often classified as a craft, can afford unusual op-
portunities for uncovering post-production textual histories, especially
in such complicated structures as windows made up of many individual
pieces of glass held together by lead strips. The sophisticated research
now being done is illustrated by Drew Anderson's detailed reports on the
Gothic windows at the Cloisters in Manhattan. After comparing current
and earlier photographs of a window digitally and making rubbings of
each piece of glass, Anderson describes the deterioration, amateur repairs


Page 28
(such as the insertion of any piece of glass that came to hand and the
enlarging of the lead to hold it in), and previous conservation efforts that
have occurred at each spot in the window. He is thus reading the windows
in much the same way that analytical bibliographers read the physical
evidence in books—a point that is particularly apt since medieval picto-
rial windows were meant to function in part as books, conveying biblical
stories to those who could not read. Textual critics must always try to
extract the story that the physical details tell, as preparation for evaluat-
ing the text of the work. "Each window tells its own story," Anderson
says. "And the more you work on them, the more you find out" (quoted
by Carol Vogel, 17 June 2006). This knowledge helps one to appreciate
the work, whether or not any editorial alterations seem advisable; and in
the case of stained-glass windows, attempting to recreate their original
condition would often be incompatible with preservation, since cleaning
can alter the colors. The situation once again illustrates how, with works
in tangible media, practical considerations may limit the editorial activity
that follows from a detailed knowledge of textual history.

Installation art, another form of sculpture, poses a few additional tex-
tual problems. Because installations are likely to consist of a variety of
objects and because the spatial relationships among them are crucial to
the work, the task of moving an installation (if it is not a site-specific one)
to a different location is especially challenging. Although it is possible to
recreate an installation precisely, so long as all the same objects remain
available, it is likely that there will be small textual differences (at least)
in each reinstallation. If the artist supervises reinstallations, any differ-
ences may constitute authorially intended versions, unless they result from
concessions made in deference to a particular space, in which case they
are analogous to adaptations for a special audience. Exact reinstallations
require exact measurements of the original installation; photographs are
obviously not adequate, and any sketches or notes by the artist do not
necessarily predict or record what the artist actually did in setting up
the original installation. Furthermore, installations are in many instances
mixed-media works par excellence, combining sculptural items, paintings,
photographs, videos or film loops, music or other sound, verbal texts in
visible form, and so on. Textual criticism and scholarly editing of such
works therefore involve the issues characteristic of each of the media in-
dividually, as well as the analysis of the texts that have resulted from the