The Many Deaths of a Painting

Roman Mars:
This is 99% Invisible. I’m Roman Mars.

Roman Mars:
Barbara Visser was nine years old the first time she saw it. She was on a school field trip to the Stedelijk Art Museum in the center of Amsterdam.

Barbara Visser:
I guess it’s about 1975. One could say it’s the heyday of that museum. They were really at the forefront of modern and contemporary art.

Roman Mars:
The Stedelijk was built to impress.

Barbara Visser:
There was a huge stairway leading up to the light, in a way, a bit biblical. A stairway, not to heaven but almost to heaven, to the Hall of Honors.

Roman Mars:
The Hall of Honors displayed some of the museum’s finest paintings, but one in particular dominated the room. The tour guide led Barbara and her class over.

Barbara Visser:
And this painting, it struck me like lightning, and not in a positive way.

Roman Mars:
What she saw was a massive canvas, nearly 18 feet wide and eight feet tall. On the left side, a small strip of blue. On the right, a small strip of yellow. But the rest of the surface was painted entirely red, this majestic firetruck red.

Barbara Visser:
And it kind of annoyed me. Really, I didn’t know what to look at, where to stare, what to do with it, and the only thing that the guide shared with us was the title, and the title is a question, “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue?” I got very angry. I ran out of the museum. I sat on the steps and was determined not to go in again.

John Fecile:
The full title of the painting Barbara saw that day is “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III” by the American postwar artist Barnett Newman.

Roman Mars:
Producer John Fecile brings us this tale from the galleries of Amsterdam.

John Fecile:
Usually you walk into a museum, you see a painting, you think about it for a moment, maybe feel something, and walk away. Not this one. This was a painting that would produce such strong reactions in people that they did more than just think about it.

Roman Mars:
In the end, Barbara got off easy. She only struggled with the painting her entire life and made a feature-length documentary about it. It’s called “The End of Fear”, and it inspired this story.

John Fecile:
This story is about a reaction the painting received that was so intense, so violent, it set off a chain of events that shook the art world to its core.

Barbara Visser:
It wasn’t easy art, to say the least.

John Fecile:
But first, why this painting?

Barnett Newman:
The problem of the subject became very clear to me as the crucial thing in painting.

John Fecile:
Barnett Newman was a late bloomer – a substitute art teacher turned art critic turned artist. He didn’t have his first solo show until he was almost 45. He was this portly Jewish guy with a big friendly mustache, who wore a lot of bow ties and went by the nickname “Barney”.

Roman Mars:
And he quickly became the de facto spokesman for a new art movement called Abstract Expressionism.

Barnett Newman:
A painter is a kind of choreographer of space. He creates kind of a dance of elements, of forms.

John Fecile:
Abstract Expressionism came out of New York after World War II. The movement produced painters like Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Helen Frankenthaler, artists known for big canvases full of wild colors, shapes, and splashes of paints.

Roman Mars:
Like many Abstract Expressionist artists, Newman struggled with what to paint in the aftermath of the war.

Barnett Newman:
I felt the issue in those years was what can a painter do?

John Fecile:
After all, what could you paint after the Holocaust, after Hiroshima?

Barnett Newman:
What am I going to paint?

John Fecile:
For Newman, answering this question required ignoring all of art history and starting from scratch. He began making large paintings, big even by Abstract Expressionist standards, often filling the entire wall of a gallery.

Barnett Newman:
In the end, size doesn’t count. It’s scale that counts. It’s human scale that counts.

John Fecile:
These paintings were physically big, and they felt even bigger. They featured very few colors, usually one solid hue broken up by a few vertical stripes.

Roman Mars:
But whatever you do, don’t call them stripes.

Barnett Newman:
I did not decide to say to myself, “I’m going to paint stripes.”

John Fecile:
Newman preferred to call them “zips”.

Barnett Newman:
I feel that my zip does not divide my painting. I feel it does the exact opposite. It unites the thing. It creates a totality.

Roman Mars:
In 1967, Newman finished what would prove to be one of his largest paintings “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III”.

John Fecile:
It was the third in a series. The title was a reference to “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”, a landmark play, later a movie starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, about a relationship full of miscommunication …

Richard Burton:
Be careful, Martha, I’ll rip you to pieces.

John Fecile:
… accusal …

Elizabeth Taylor:
You’re not man enough. You haven’t the guts.

John Fecile:
… and betrayal.

Richard Burton:
Total war?

Elizabeth Taylor:
Total.

Roman Mars:
In a sense, this big red painting with a slender zip of blue on the left and a slender zip of yellow on the right was Newman’s way of saying, “This is what a painting can do.”

John Fecile:
But what was the painting doing exactly? Barbara Visser says that when the Stedelijk Museum acquired “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III” in 1969, a lot of people did not like it.

Roman Mars:
Actually, let’s go with despised. People despised it.

Barbara Visser:
At the time, people would write really long and elaborate letters to say how much they hated this painting.

John Fecile:
The painting evoked a common complaint about abstract art, which is to throw your hands up and say, “Why is this art? I paid to see art, damn it, not red paint on a canvas. Anybody can do that.”

Barbara Visser:
There was one woman who expressed that it really nauseated her and it really literally made her sick. She felt it would better be hung out of sight, somewhere in the coat check.

John Fecile:
In 1986, the painting was the centerpiece of an exhibit called The Grande Parade, the purpose of which was to raise exactly this question of what a painting is or isn’t.

Roman Mars:
And that’s when the negative opinions over “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III” were taken to a whole new level.

John Fecile:
At the time, Barbara was in art school.

Barbara Visser:
Somehow in the corridors of the school, people whispered, “Ah, did you hear it? Something happened at the Stedelijk Museum.” You couldn’t really verify it.

Petra Ten Cate:
I was on my way to the Stedelijk Museum for a meeting.

John Fecile:
Petra Ten Cate, an artist and educator, walked into the Stedelijk that afternoon. Once there, she headed to the gallery where “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III”was hanging.

Petra Ten Cate:
And then I came upon that room, and there I saw this painting was just destroyed.

John Fecile:
An attendant stood in the corner, too petrified to move. The painting had just been attacked.

Petra Ten Cate:
And the man who did it sat on the bench.

Roman Mars:
The tall, brown-haired man sitting quietly on the bench had stabbed the painting with a box cutter, tracing a series of long slashes through the very center of the canvas.

Petra Ten Cate:
He cut it all in verticals and long, long slashes horizontal.

John Fecile:
The canvas had lost its tension and sagged, turning the cuts into lopsided smiles and exposing the white wall behind. Petra took it all in.

Petra Ten Cate:
And I saw that in a blink, and then I run away.

John Fecile:
She went to find the museum’s curator.

Petra Ten Cate:
And I screamed, “The painting is destroyed! It’s murder!”

Ysbrand Hummele:
I remember I got a call, and I think it was in a weekend, and I was at home.

John Fecile:
Ysbrand Hummelen is an art conservation expert in the Netherlands, and even though he didn’t work at the Stedelijk, he was called in that day, along with the police.

Ysbrand Hummele:
The director was there, and a lot of people were around. At least 20 people were around. There was a lot of tension.

John Fecile:
The painting was laid out in the middle of the gallery.

Ysbrand Hummele:
They had it on the ground already, face down.

John Fecile:
Could you see the slashes?

Ysbrand Hummele:
Yes, from the back side, of course. Yes.

John Fecile:
The slashes, when added up together, measured nearly 50 feet long. Petra and Ysbrand couldn’t quite believe it.

Petra Ten Cate:
That’s all I remember of that day. It was so awful.

John Fecile:
The attacker’s name was Gerard Jan van Bladeren. Why did he do it?

Petra Ten Cate:
I didn’t ask him.

John Fecile:
He was 31, unemployed, living with his parents, and he was a painter himself; although not very successful. Barbara looked into his past.

Barbara Visser:
I haven’t seen his, let’s say, his early work before he attacked the painting, but I know that his action was regarded by him as an artistic gesture.

Roman Mars:
Van Bladeren came from a school of thought that valued things like landscapes and figures. He hated abstract art and saw the painting as a kind of cultural provocation.

Barbara Visser:
And one of the main arguments that his lawyer made in his defense was that the provocation that the work inevitably is, called for an action and got one.

John Fecile:
Even as van Bladeren was being sentenced to five months in prison, he stood by his actions as a defense of artistic values. And many people in the Netherlands agreed. They sent letters to the Stedelijk. “This so-called vandal should be made the director of modern museums,” read one. “He did what hundreds of thousands of us would have liked to do,” read another. Do you think that this painting was designed to upset people?

Barbara Visser:
That’s an interesting question. I think the provocation was not the first intention of the work, but I do think that a title like that, because it’s a question, demands an answer.

Roman Mars:
The painting was meant to challenge you, although by all accounts, Newman, who died in 1970, would have been horrified by what happened.

John Fecile:
While van Bladeren sat in prison, the canvas of “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III” remained in tatters. Ysbrand and other experts wondered if it could be restored. Their initial prognosis was grim.

Ysbrand Hummele:
All damaged paintings can be treated, but you don’t know what the result will be. And in this case, of course, I realized that this would be an enormous job, or maybe an impossible job.

Carol Mancusi-Ungaro:
These things look like anybody could do it. That’s not the case. It’s not.

Ysbrand Hummele:
Carol Mancusi-Ungaro from the Whitney Museum is one of the leading experts in the field of art conservation.

Carol Mancusi-Ungaro:
The terminology in America is conservation, not restoration.

John Fecile:
Okay, good to know. Carol has pioneered techniques for restoring work by modern and contemporary artists. She’s worked on several paintings by Barnett Newman.

Carol Mancusi-Ungaro:
I’ve been in this business for a long time, 40 years. Golly.

John Fecile:
She says that there are set rules that conservators must follow when repairing a painting.

Carol Mancusi-Ungaro:
Reversibility is a cardinal rule of conservation. We make every effort to not use any material that cannot be removed or reversed in the future.

John Fecile:
For example, if conservators add paint to a canvas, they want to make sure that paint can be dissolved and removed later. They do this in case the artwork needs to be retouched again in the future.

Roman Mars:
Conservators also try to preserve as much of the original material as possible, touching only the areas that need treatment.

John Fecile:
And they really study the artists and look at their past work.

Carol Mancusi-Ungaro:
In order to get a sense of what the artist was trying to achieve.

John Fecile:
With these rules in mind, the Stedelijk phoned up practically every conservator in Europe as they tried to figure out how to repair “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III” and its 50 feet worth of slashes.

Barbara Visser:
They held conferences with the best people in the business, and they couldn’t really agree on what was the best way to do it.

Roman Mars:
The biggest challenge, perhaps counterintuitively, was the very simplicity of the painting. The busy texture and detail of a Picasso or a Rembrandt often helps mask the repair work, but Newman’s canvas was mostly just one big swath of uniform color. Any sign of repair, however minor, would be sure to stand out.

John Fecile:
So most conservators were too scared to try.

Barbara Visser:
Nobody wanted to burn their hands on it, as we say.

John Fecile:
But someone finally came to the rescue. Daniel Goldreyer was a conservator based in New York who had worked with Newman while he was still alive.

Barbara Visser:
They approached him, Daniel Goldreyer, and asked whether he was fit to do it. He was very optimistic. He said he could mend it with 98% success.

Roman Mars:
“This is 98% Restorable. I’m Daniel Goldreyer.”

John Fecile:
Goldreyer promised that when he was done, the slashes would be virtually invisible. The officials at the Stedelijk breathed a sigh of relief, and in 1987, “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III” was rolled up, put in a narrow coffin-like box, and carried solemnly down the steps of the museum. Then it was shipped off to Goldreyer’s studio in New York.

Barbara Visser:
From that time on, the Stedelijk didn’t hear much about it. Goldreyer said, “This is not a small job, so please leave me to do the job.”

Roman Mars:
A year passed, then two, then three.

John Fecile:
Eventually, the museum is like, “Uh, what’s up with our painting?”

Barbara Visser:
He said, “We’re doing fine, we’re doing fine. We’ll keep you posted.” Another year passed. They asked again.

Roman Mars:
Finally, four and a half years later, Goldreyer unveiled the painting.

John Fecile:
And when the museum director, a guy named Wim Beeren, came to inspect his work, there was no sign of the slashes. The damage had been erased.

Roman Mars:
“Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III” was headed back to Amsterdam.

Barbara Visser:
Shortly after, it’s exhibited again. The press is invited. Wim Beeren speaks of the return of a lost son. They try to make it a very festive moment.

John Fecile:
But on that first day back, visitors to the museum began to notice something. To keep people from getting too close to the painting, the museum had installed a low fence. One guy there, a conservator who didn’t work for the museum, decided to hop it.

Barbara Visser:
He really wanted to smell the work, not just look at it from a distance. And he looked at it, and he said, “I’m not seeing what I saw before. This is something else.”

John Fecile:
Ysbrand was there that day too.

Ysbrand Hummele:
I immediately recognized it also. It was like a wall, a latex paint wall. Dull, no tension.

Roman Mars:
Yes, the slashes had been repaired, and yes, the surface was still red, but before, there had been depth to the red, a shimmering quality. That was all gone.

John Fecile:
How did you feel?

Ysbrand Hummele:
Incredibly disappointed and, well, sad, very sad. Very sad. Yeah.

John Fecile:
Did you feel like the painting had been ruined?

Ysbrand Hummele:
Yes. Yeah, ruined, yes.

John Fecile:
At first, the museum tried to deny it. The director was like, “What are you talking about? It looks good as new.” But everybody else was like, “Dude, come on.”

Roman Mars:
The city council of Amsterdam, which owned the museum and technically owned the painting, sent it to a forensic lab to figure out what Goldreyer had done.

Barbara Visser:
In the lab, they made cross-sections of the layers of paint, because usually a painting, especially an oil painting, it’s not one layer, it’s many different layers.

Ysbrand Hummele:
Like the layers in the ground, you know? Like archeologists use layers in the ground, you see all the paint layers under the microscope.

John Fecile:
They took these tiny samples from the red part of the painting and compared them to earlier samples that Ysbrand and the others had pulled off the gallery floor the day the painting was slashed.

Ysbrand Hummele:
And then it was very, very, very clear that there were four layers of paint on top of the original ones.

Roman Mars:
And the four layers of new flat dull paint didn’t just cover the areas that had been slashed. Goldreyer had painted over the entire red part of the canvas, so basically the whole painting.

John Fecile:
And Goldreyer hadn’t used oil paint, which is what Newman had used. He’d used a type of acrylic paint known as alkyd.

Ysbrand Hummele:
What you use for house paint.

Roman Mars:
House paint.

Ysbrand Hummele:
This dries, this house paint, very hard. In 10 years it becomes very hard and very impossible, actually, to take off.

John Fecile:
And that’s not all. There were also splatters of red paints on the blue and yellow zips at either side of the canvas, which indicated that Goldreyer had used a paint roller. Goldreyer had rolled over the entire canvas of a 20th century masterpiece with house paint.

Roman Mars:
“Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III” had been murdered, again.

John Fecile:
Theories abound as to what went wrong in that Long Island studio. Maybe Goldreyer bluffed his way into the job, realized it was a nearly impossible task, and panicked.

Roman Mars:
Not everyone felt he’d ruined the painting. Barnett Newman’s widow, for instance, thought he did a good job, although she hadn’t seen it in good lighting.

John Fecile:
Publicly, Goldreyer insisted he hadn’t painted over the canvas. He said he had pinpointed the damaged area with two million tiny dots.

Ysbrand Hummele:
He said, “I did not overpaint this painting.” Yeah, that was really a lie, because we could prove it.

John Fecile:
Even though they’d just proven all this, the Stedelijk was in a bind. Because the museum’s director had signed off on the restoration, Goldreyer sued for defamation, and the museum settled. The whole affair cost over a million bucks, and to this day they’re stuck with a damaged painting. And they can’t really talk about that damage. That was part of the settlement.

Roman Mars:
But fortunately for us, Carol Mancusi-Ungaro from the Whitney can talk about it.

Carol Mancusi-Ungaro:
When you look at a work of art that’s primarily a flat color, when you look at that work of art cold, you kind of say, “Well, what are you talking about? It’s just one flat color. Anybody can do that. Just repaint it. What’s the big deal?”

Roman Mars:
That might have been what Goldreyer was thinking. The fact is, Barnett Newman did sometimes use paint rollers in his work.

John Fecile:
But he didn’t use a roller for this painting. Again, these things might look like anybody can make them, but Newman’s process was complex.

Carol Mancusi-Ungaro:
He worked his surfaces so well that you’re never aware of a brush stroke. You’re never aware of a roller pattern. He worked those surfaces so the only thing that you saw and the only thing you remember is the color.

John Fecile:
In a way, Goldreyer’s restoration of the painting, this second murder, was even worse than what the slasher had done, because he didn’t even acknowledge the painting. If the forensic analysis is correct, then he just rolled over it like it was the side of a tool shed and then lied. The slasher was at least responding to the painting. There was some honesty there.

Roman Mars:
Which makes what happened next so ironic and maybe inevitable.

Rudi Fuchs:
(telephone ring) Hello?

John Fecile:
In 1997, 11 years after the slashing, van Bladeren – the slasher – found out about the botched restoration of “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III”.

Roman Mars:
Apparently, he too believed that the painting had been robbed of its original power, even if he had hated it, so he called the museum.

Gerard van Bladeren:
(speaking in Dutch)

John Fecile:
He was put through to the new director, a man named Rudi Fuchs. Fuchs recorded the call.

Barbara Visser:
The attacker tells Fuchs that what he did in 1986, he would do that again to the restored painting.

Gerard van Bladeren:
(speaking in Dutch)

John Fecile:
“Should I cut it up again?” the slasher asks.

Rudi Fuchs:
(speaking in Dutch)

Roman Mars:
“Obviously not,” Fuchs replies.

Gerard van Bladeren:
(speaking in Dutch)

John Fecile:
“But it’s been totally f**ked up,” the slasher says.

Rudi Fuchs:
(speaking in Dutch)

Roman Mars:
“That’s your opinion,” says Fuchs.

Barbara Visser:
For a moment it’s quiet, and he’s apparently thinking about that. Then he says, “Okay, okay, I know now what to do.”

Gerard van Bladeren:
(speaking in Dutch)

Barbara Visser:
And Rudi Fuchs answers, “Well, I wouldn’t do what you think you have to do.”

Rudi Fuchs:
(speaking in Dutch)

Barbara Visser:
And then the conversation ends.

John Fecile:
After this phone call, van Bladeren returns to the museum. He enters unrecognized, and he looks around for “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III”.

Barbara Visser:
But the painting is not on display at that moment. He came to the museum with very clear intentions, and it must be hard for him not to find that work.

Roman Mars:
So instead, he goes and finds another painting by Barnett Newman, a large blue painting with a white zip down the middle, called “Cathedra”.

Carol Mancusi-Ungaro:
That’s another moment in my life I will never forget.

John Fecile:
Rudi Fuchs, the museum’s director, called Carol Mancusi-Ungaro right after it happened.

Carol Mancusi-Ungaro:
You know, it was a phone call from Rudi Fuchs, director of Stedelijk. That was a big deal. So I immediately went to my office to take the phone call, and he told me that “Cathedra” had been slashed. I swear, the hair on my arms just stood up. I could not believe that it had happened. And it was the same person.

John Fecile:
For the second time, Gerard Jan van Bladeren had attacked a Barnett Newman painting with a knife. When he was done, he threw a packet of pamphlets on the floor that contained rambling incoherent writing.

Carol Mancusi-Ungaro:
The other sad aspect of it was, the slash marks were exactly the same. They were so similar to the earlier attack that it became known as the artist’s signature, the slasher’s signature.

John Fecile:
At his second trial, van Bladeren was declared mentally unfit and sent to a psychiatric institution.

Roman Mars:
Van Bladeren’s attacks may have been motivated by mental illness, but in the era of public art, they’re part of a long sad history of vandalism. Picasso’s “Guernica” was spray painted in the ’70s. Acid has been thrown at Rembrandts. Two Michelangelo sculptures have been attacked with hammers.

John Fecile:
Newman’s work in particular has been vandalized multiple times, and these weren’t artistic gestures. Remember, Newman’s a Jewish artist. “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue IV,” the sequel to “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III”, was struck and spat upon in Germany because, the attacker said, it bore a mocking resemblance to the German flag. A Newman sculpture at a museum in Houston was spray painted with swastikas in 1979. And just last year someone poured white paint into the reflecting pool surrounding this same sculpture and left behind white supremacist leaflets.

Roman Mars:
If you’re keeping track, that’s four Barnett Newman works defaced a total of five times. Six, if you include Daniel Goldreyer’s botched restoration. And those are just the ones we know of.

John Fecile:
The Barnett Newman Foundation refused to speak to me for this story, because they have a really legitimate fear of copycat vandalism.

Carol Mancusi-Ungaro:
Sure, I think that’s right. And maybe I shouldn’t have agreed to talk to you for that reason. I’m concerned now. I hadn’t thought about it myself.

John Fecile:
Carol almost made a break for it during our interview.

Carol Mancusi-Ungaro:
I have to ask you a question.

John Fecile:
Yeah.

Carol Mancusi-Ungaro:
How would you feel if after reading this, somebody went and slashed a painting?

John Fecile:
Oh, I would feel terrible. That would mean we failed. Yeah.

Carol Mancusi-Ungaro:
I know. Because our paintings are so vulnerable. They’re just out there in galleries.

John Fecile:
So I’m here at MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It’s a Friday night. It’s really busy in here. When I was at MOMA recently, I saw this Barnett Newman painting titled “Vir Heroicus Sublimis”. The title of this painting translates to “Man, Heroic and Sublime”. It was the size of a billboard. It looks a lot like “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III”. It’s red with a couple of streaks of this purplish color and this orange color and this whitish color, but mostly red, mostly hugely red, like this one solid wall of red.

John Fecile:
The painting didn’t provoke me. It didn’t make me angry, like it did so many others. And it didn’t look simple either, like something you could just roll over with a paint roller. It was towering, impressive, dense. You just get up close to this thing, you really get lost in it. For a moment I think I felt this feeling that I’d heard Ysbrand talk about, something that Newman tried to achieve in his work.

Ysbrand Hummele:
It has to do with the sublime, and a sublime experience is when you are alone in the desert in the night, and you see the enormous sky, and you feel very tiny. You feel overwhelmed by it. This is a kind of feeling everybody knows, I think.

John Fecile:
This is really overwhelming, to be honest.

Roman Mars:
A painting is more than just a painting. It’s more than the materials and the technique. It’s the feeling it evokes in you, the viewer.

John Fecile:
And when you damage or destroy a piece of art, that’s what you lose.

Carol Mancusi-Ungaro:
That’s the crime. That’s the real crime.

John Fecile:
Diminishing the painting’s power?

Carol Mancusi-Ungaro:
Yes, the experience of it.

John Fecile:
After “Cathedra” was attacked, both Ysbrand and Carol advised on its restoration, and the museum spared no expense. The canvas was stitched together with surgical sutures and orthodontic wire on a specially built table.

Roman Mars:
Four painstaking years later, it was unveiled. It’s not perfect. If you know where to look and look closely, you can see the scars. But the impression survives. The painting can still take your breath away.

John Fecile:
“Cathedra” is currently on display at the Stedelijk, but not “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III”.

Barbara Visser:
It’s a painting that is very close to everyone’s heart at the museum and in Amsterdam, yet we do all agree now that it’s not what it used to be.

Roman Mars:
The painting is sitting in a storage facility at the edge of town.

Barbara Visser:
It’s too big to fit into the normal places that are reserved, so it stands by itself, kind of lonely against the wall.

Roman Mars:
It waits there, hoping for a day when future conservators might be able to undo what was done to it, to remove the layers of paint and get to the original experience, the one the artist created, still sleeping underneath.

Credits

Production

Reporter John Fecile spoke with Barbara Visser; Petra Ten Cate; Ysbrand Hummelen; and Carol Mancusi-Ungaro

Comments (7)

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  1. Dear 99PI’ers –

    I just finished listening to The Many Deaths of a Painting while on my run. Another great episode.

    However, I was saddened by a moment in the show when Barbara asks John how he would feel if someone attacked a painting after they heard this podcast… John responds that he would feel terrible and that the episode would have failed. While I empathized with John in that moment and his reaction is genuine, I really feel the query was unfair. The question ties into a longer history of creation, causation and correlation. And frankly, it gets to the heart of the episode itself. Would Newman not have painted if he knew his works would be slashed. I would guess he would paint without fear. I don’t think denying the making or talking about a thing does anything but smother thought, conversation (this of course does not include hate speech and the like). This podcast informs, enlightens, and surprises. Keep doing that!

    A loving listener,

    Robert

  2. Hi, I was very happy to hear my profession of conservation given such a stellar spotlight. I would ask, however, that if you’re going to expound upon how “cool” our work is, that you also acknowledge how undervalued we are. Conservation takes intense and niche training, often at significant cost to the practitioner. Once that training is completed (undergrad, grad school, fellowships), jobs are few and far between, and pay is not comparable to the cultural value of the work, nor the investment conservators must make to become experts. There are, of course, individuals in our field who make a decent wage, but many do not, and even more end up pursuing other careers because of the financial burden the field places on us. Again, I’m glad the podcast was able to give a wider audience an understanding of this field of study that I love. Thanks for a great episode. But let’s talk about the less sunny side of this as well. Eddy

  3. Budo

    There’s something about art restoration that is deeply satisfying, especially that comforting, reassuring feeling that watching a good restorer at work brings – the feeling that someone has all the bases covered, that there are materials, techniques and procedures for every eventuality, and that all of them guarantee that the work of art’s original artistic vision will be preserved, that all the work done can be reversed if needed, and that it will remain stable and unchanged for many years to come. Julian Baumgartner has a really good channel on YouTube, showcasing many of his conservations step by step, I highly recommend it.

  4. I am intrigued by the desire/option of the history of a painting to be obliterated/disguised rather than used as a story line. In Japanese culture the history of a piece of ceramic is celebrated with a gold repair. I understand that it is a different medium, but is there not a comparable option with painting?

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