Category: San Suzie

Ask the Art Nurse: Stinky Feathers.


I have a random conservation question for you: A friend of mine just returned from an African safari and brought back some fresh guinea fowl feathers from a bird that she shot. She said that the feathers really stink and she’s trying to get the smell to go away. (Ick. Don’t get me started.) She said she’s tried dish soap, laundry soap, Woolite (which seemed to work the best), but they’re still pretty stanky.

Do you have ideas on what would work best without damaging the integrity of the feathers?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

Stinky Feathers


Back when I was starting out as a conservator I worked in an ethnographic museum where I recall treating feathers — the most delicate of materials — with the most delicate of techniques. The reason is that any aggressive cleaning strips the feathers of their oils and they are then exposed to damage, drying, and all manner of deterioration. I’ve since gone on to work primarily on detritus and organic matter used in the service of contemporary art, so I thought it best if I posed this question to my pal Dana Moffett, formerly of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art. She is now a private conservator working in Washington, D.C., on the artifacts of cultures that have better things to do with skulls than encrust them in diamonds.

After expressing horror at the use of dish soap, laundry soap, and Woolite — which probably completely stripped the feathers of their oils — Dana suggested placing the feathers (properly wrapped, of course, in a few sheets of Japanese paper or acid free tissue) into a sealed container (Ziploc bag, Tupperware) that contains an odor scavenger that will absorb the foul odor, like zeolites, activated charcoal (not the kind with lighter fluid), or even kitty litter (seriously). She also warned that she was not sure how long it would take to work. It all depends on the source of the stench.

If it doesn’t go away, there’s always the possibility of recycling the feathers — perhaps as a fragrant work of contemporary art. The next Whitney Biennial isn’t until 2012. There’s time…

San Suzie

Have a question for the Art Nurse? E-mail her at suzie [at] c-monster [dot] net.

Ask the Art Nurse: How to get chewing gum off your art (and your shoes).


I’m a New York City-based arts blogger who recently invested in a pair of righteous grey-felt sneakers — a purchase that may have been subliminally inspired by a recent visit to the Joseph Beuys installation at the Dia Beacon.

Well, on my first day wearing my smokin’ new kicks, I stepped on a giant wad of chewing gum. Not realizing that I was sporting this sticky parasite, I then paid a visit to a prominent Manhattan arts institution, where I stood on a brand-spanking-new rug that was intended as a fuzzy stage for all manner of cutting-edge relational aesthetics (i.e.: thing to sit on and talk). It was at this moment that I discovered that my foot was attached to the rug by a string of chewy chicle. In good starving-writer fashion, I quickly made for the exit.

My question is this: How do I remove the gum from the tight tread of my insanely rad footwear? And what suggestions would you have for the venerable downtown arts institution that may find itself with a mess of Double Mint smashed into their social sculpture?

Love your work,
Hapless in Brooklyn


First of all, you can’t write to me mentioning something as sublime as felt sneaks without a picture. So pony up and tell me also where you got them. [Hapless in Brooklyn has acquiesced with the image at right, though she refuses to reveal her retail sources.]

Secondly, in this case, ice is your best friend. Rub a cube on the gum until it gets hard, then take a knife and chip away as much as possible without hurting the rubber sole, of course. The residue can be cleaned off with ethanol (denatured alcohol) or acetone (nail polish remover) on a Q-tip. Test a discreet area first to make sure the solvent does not dissolve the shoe bottom.

The same is prescribed for the venerable arts venue. However, they will have to work around the fuzz (e.g. possible hedge-trimming) and might face issues of discoloration if using a solvent. It’s the type of tricky work, naturally, that is best left in the hands of a pro.

San Suzie

Have a question for the Art Nurse? E-mail her at suzie [at] c-monster [dot] net.

Havana in the ’60s: The photographs of Jose A. Figueroa.

Waving goodbye, possibly forever. Olga, Havana, 1967, from the Exile series by Jose A. Figueroa. Part of the exhibit Mis 60/My 60s at Couturier Gallery in Los Angeles. (Images courtesy of Couturier.)

During the mid-1960s, when Jose Alberto Figueroa worked as the studio assistant to renowned Cuban photographer Alberto Korda, he regularly shot photographs of friends, family and his daily life in Havana. Figueroa never printed those negatives and never considered them aesthetic material, worthy of exhibition. As a photographer, he is generally regarded as a product of the ’70s, when he began working as a photojournalist for Cuba magazine — where he covered Cuban involvement in the Angolan Civil War and various aspects of domestic life. (Some of these images will be on view in a show that opens at New York’s International Center of Photography this week.)

The 1960s photographs were long forgotten by Figo (as he is known to friends and family), and only surfaced several years ago, when he and his wife, curator Cristina Vives, began searching through his archives for material that would become the book Jose A. Figueroa: A Cuban Self-Portrait. “We realized right away that there was important material here that had not been seen before,” Vives said of the images — which include photographs of friends going to parties and hanging out; of carnival and beach parties. Most striking are images of the artist’s mother preparing to leave the country.

First exhibited in Cuba in 2006 when Figo turned 60, and later in Finland, the collection Mis 60/My 60s, now on view at the Couturier Gallery in L.A., constitutes an intimate and unique portrait of Cuba in the 1960s. They are worth seeing not only for their beauty, but for the exhilarating counterpoint they provide to a place that is known almost exclusively through a near-mythical revolutionary lens.

Mis 60/My 60s is up at Couturier through Oct. 16.

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The Day in Bad Ideas: Shining Path Montessori School, for your budding little ideologue.

We’re not making this up.

San Suzie sent this photo along to me this morning and, well, I just can’t resist imagining their sales pitch:

At Shining Path Montessori, we take brainwashing seriously, which is why we’ve named this Los Angeles pre-school after an Andean terrorist group renowned for its brutally violent tactics. In combination with off-hours re-education at Potemkin Village Day Care, we’ll get your little Maoist zealot ready for graduation to Red Brigade Elementary and, ultimately, Long March High. Shining Path Montessori: For when you want only the best for your pillager-in-training

Seriously, though: What the fuck are you guys thinking???

Ask the Art Nurse: A crumbling work on drywall


I’m an avid follower of C-Monster and have an art conservation query: Before shuttering their doors for good, my favorite street art gallery in Brooklyn invited the public to help demolish some of their walls. As the walls were painted with murals by notable artists, this was an attractive proposition.

Happily, I am now in possession of a heavy, largish chunk of painted drywall. However, the drywall is awfully fragile – the piece was not so delicately hammered out of the wall – and I’m wondering how best to stabilize it and prevent further crumbling. It goes without saying that I do not have a museum-scale art conservation budget.

Your advice, please?



My two favorite things on earth are hunks of concrete buildings and graffiti, so you are talking about restoring something quite dear to my heart. It would be helpful to know if the damage you are talking about consists of fragmenting edges or wholesale cracking of the piece itself. If it’s the former, what we conservators would do would be to consolidate the edges of the fragment. This means applying some kind of adhesive in thinned down form that would solidify the edge and keep if from crumbling. The trick is to do this using something that will not stain or damage the original and — most importantly — could be removed and redone. In other words, making it reversible, in case you screw it up.

If you are talking about big breaks in the piece, however, then you are looking at something called a structural repair — and that requires a bit more thinking through. So first tell me which it is. Also tell me if the area to be repaired has paint on it or not. (Or feel free to send me a link to a photo.) And then I can give the patient a proper diagnosis.

San Suzie

Have a question for the Art Nurse? E-mail her at suzie [at] c-monster [dot] net.

Marcos Zimmermann’s South American Nudes.

The first thing that entered my head when I stood in front of Marcos Zimmermann‘s astonishing silver gelatin portraits of nude working class men from South America was, How the heck did he get these guys to do this? This is not a part of the world known for embracing male nudity (especially in traditionally modest societies like Bolivia). The answer to my question was pretty simple, however: Zimmermann paid his subjects — all working class men who needed the money. It was well worth it. Best known for his dramatic landscape photographs, the Argentinean photographer manages to capture these men at their most vulnerable, but also their most powerful.

The photos are on show as part of the exhibit Desnudos Sudamericanos, at Couturier Gallery in Los Angeles, through April 17.


Top to bottom: Mario, changador, Mercado Rodríguez, La Paz, Bolivia (2006); Pablo y Marino, malabaristas callejeros en una casa tomada, San Isidro, provincia de Buenos Aires, Argentina (2002); Muchachos en una terraza, Favela Cantagalo, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil (2006). (All images courtesy of Couturier.)

In L.A.: Resurrecting Robert Mallary, Master of Assemblage.

Working on Robert Mallary’s Corner Piece. (Photos by San Suzie and Box Gallery.)

Last December, the director of L.A.’s Box Gallery contacted me about the conservation of some 1950s and 60s pieces by Robert Mallary (1917-1997). The pieces consisted largely of old tuxedos dipped in resin and sculptures made of polyester, sand and dirt. For an Art Nurse like myself, nothing is more exciting than a chance to work on detritus-as-art, and these works — made by a pioneer in the field of assemblage and use of resin — would provide me with a rich opportunity to experiment with the conservation of new materials, not to mention chew over the limits between junk and art.

Crafted out of wood, dirt, sand, rusted steel, cardboard, tar paper and fabric that has been crushed, bent, twisted, and dipped in a resin of questionable formulation, these sculptures had once been seen in landmark avant-garde exhibitions such as MoMA’s Sixteen Americans (1959) and Art of Assemblage (1961). More recently, they had  languished in a near-junk heap in the building that had once served as Mallary’s studio in Conway, Massachusetts. They might have never been seen or heard from again if artist Paul McCarthy, long an admirer of Mallary’s work, hadn’t included some of them in the show Low Life, Slow Life at the San Francisco Wattis Institute in 2008.

“As soon as we saw this work we knew something bigger had to be done,” says Box Gallery director Mara McCarthy (who also happens to be Paul’s daughter). So the gallery’s team made three separate trips to Massachusetts and carefully sorted through the heaps in Mallary’s studio. After receiving the Art Nurse treatment, eighteen of these sculptures will go on exhibit this Saturday. Working on them wasn’t easy. Mallary’s pieces aren’t just fragile; they’re each made up of  what seems to be a million different materials – one corner might be all fabric and resin, another dirt and old newspaper. And because every material adheres differently and every adhesive used in conservation has the potential to stain the very thing you’re gluing, every single repair required a separate decision.  By the end of the week when the work was done (which incidentally was also the week that L.A. was pummeled by rain, which meant that everything took twice as long to dry) my brain felt as torqued as one of Mallary’s tuxedo pieces.

But it was clearly worth it.  In today’s art world, we’ve gotten so used to pieces made of weird materials that junk art seems as common as canvas painting.  But Mallary’s sculptures have a raw power that defies description.  This is shockingly good work – that has not been seen in nearly four decades. So if you’re going to be anywhere near L.A. over the next couple of months, get yourself over to The Box to see them. Mara McCarthy, in fact, believes that the proper resting place for these pieces would be a museum. After spending 60 hours staring and handling these works, I’d have to heartily agree.

A special thanks to the folks at the gallery for allowing us to document this process. See many more photos after the jump. Robert Mallary opens at the Box Gallery in Chinatown this Sat, Feb. 6 at 6pm and is on display until April 3, 2010.

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