By Brooke Hartley
As he attacks bird droppings with a power hose and industrial cleaning solvent, John Campbell’s voice lacks even a hint of irony as he explains, “I was partly drawn to this profession for its glamorous elements.” A conservator of contemporary art at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, Campbell’s job can be viewed as a blend between art physician and ethical janitor. In working to prolong the life of a work while preserving the artist’s original intent, his tasks have ranged from, “consolidating loaves of bread … to gluing green army men to toast.”
With this in mind, Campbell and other conservators must thread a fine line between conservation and modification, an objective that requires an acute understanding of each work’s intrinsic meaning. In this way, conservators’ work requires decisive decision making, in order to avoid additional artistic input and thus protect each work from intellectual adjustments.
In his work for the Nasher Museum today, Campbell utilized basic household cleaning supplies to combat the effects of both troublesome critters and unpredictable weather on the 1970-75 sculpture by Mark di Suvero, “In the Bushes,” on the museum lawn (on loan from the Raymond and Patsy Nasher Collection, Dallas. With the meticulousness of a doctor assesing a patient during a routine check-up, he took note of the condition, while clearing out areas where muck and water had collected with time. Thanks to Campbell’s willingness to get his hands a little dirty, the di Suvero sculpture will enjoy a longer life expectancy and the public can continue to benefit from its presence here at the Nasher Museum.
It will not, however, be free of bird droppings for long.
IMAGE: Copyright 2005 by Brad Feinknopf