Russell Collett, the Art Institute’s Associate Vice President for Protection Services describes the museum’s multi-layered security approach as “both overt and covert.” And he should know. In addition to his years at the Art Institute, he spent 25 years with the Secret Service.
Russell was recently profiled in the museum’s Member Magazine and discusses what it’s like to ride on Air Force One and if the museum has any plans to reinstate the German Shepherds that used to help guard our building. Here is an excerpt from his interview, as well as a few additional fun facts. . .
You have had high-profile jobs in the past, such as working for the Secret Service. How has that prepared you for working at the Art Institute of Chicago?
I was trained from my first day at the Secret Service to build a prevention-based environment. We always look at preventing crime and preventing an attack on our people or assets. Today, that same goal is on my mind every day—to empower my team and all museum staff to build that prevention-based, forward-thinking, collaborative model. Security is everybody’s responsibility.
There are actually a lot of similarities between the Secret Service and the museum in terms of tradition, history, the mission of the people who work there, and collaboration. I spent 10 of my 25+ years with the Secret Service at the White House. It’s a museum in and of itself, and it is constantly hosting dignitaries and events. Here at the museum, we host 1,300 events a year. Being able to work collaboratively with the folks who plan these successful events is similar to the work I did at the White House.
It’s also similar from a facilities standpoint. The White House has its own curator, engineers, electricians, painters, housekeeping, gardeners, and contractors. All those folks work together on the daily operations of the White House, just as we do here.
What would surprise people about working for the Secret Service?
It’s not always as glamorous as it seems. You’d be surprised at how boring it is sometimes. It’s a 24/7/365 job, and no matter where you are, there’s somebody standing outside a door in the middle of the night protecting a president or dignitary, walking a patrol, or manning a command center. It’s similar to what we do here—our department secures our people and facilities the same way.
What’s one of your favorite perks of being an Art Institute staff member?
Being able to walk through the museum alone before the doors open to the public and to be in the presence of history. Our department brand is “protecting history.” Each of us has this ability and obligation to play a part.
What’s the most important security tip for people’s homes?
Lock your doors. Keep an emergency supply kit and have a plan. Check on your elderly neighbors and trust your gut.
What’s a movie or television show that gets the security profession totally wrong? The West Wing? Homeland? Night at the Museum? White House Down? First Kid?
No profession is ever portrayed with complete accuracy, but when it comes to accuracy in the White House, The West Wing got it totally wrong with all the walking. The White House isn’t that big. The characters would walk for minutes going from the Oval Office to the Cabinet Room exchanging rapid-fire conversation, and the two rooms were actually steps from each other. Also, the White House press room is a lot smaller than it appears on television.
You are the proud father of triplet daughters. Is working at the Art Institute more or less challenging than raising triplets?
It’s about the same. Our girls were born literally one minute apart but they are so different. So are the people who come through our doors. I get to interact with a diverse group of people—members and guests with various stages of knowledge about art. It’s all about the customer experience.
POSTED BY Katie R., ON June 03, 2015, Comments Off on Go Hawks!
The first game of the Stanley Cup Final is tonight and the lions are ready!
As always, when a Chicago sports team makes it to the championship game/series, our mighty lions are adorned with helmets or jerseys in support of our hometown team. This morning, the lions were outfitted with Blackhawks helmets and as you can imagine, it’s quite a process. Scroll below to see images of our south lion getting dressed for the big series. Go Hawks!
First scaffolding is put into place. . .
The helmet is placed on a lift. . .
It’s lifted above the height of the lion. . .
Then carefully placed on the lion’s head. . .
It’s adjusted and secured. . .
And after a few finishing touches. . .
Installation is complete!
Gustave Caillebotte’s Paris Street; Rainy Day is not only one of the museum’s foremost Impressionist masterpieces, it’s also a visitor favorite. And while many are familiar with the very Impressionist focus on light and weather and the modern subjects, there are probably a few bits of trivia that have escaped even our most devout followers. Read on for some fun facts and behind-the-scenes information:
– It was painted in 1877 and purchased by the Art Institute in 1964. In the years between, it was primarily owned by Caillebotte descendants, but was acquired in the 1950s by Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., the son of the scion who founded the Chrysler organization and financed New York’s Chrysler Building.
– The painting was first exhibited at the Impressionist exhibition in 1877, which Caillebotte largely organized and financed. The Art Institute’s own Arrival of the Normandy Train, Gare Saint-Lazare by Monet also appeared in the exhibition.
– In 2014, Art Institute conservator Faye Wrubel began to remove varnish that was added some time in the mid-20th century. Check out our video to see her process and some surprising results, including the realization that what we thought was a pearl earring, we now believe to be a diamond.
– Caillebotte was not only one of the foremost Impressionist artists, he was also an esteemed collector. In fact, when he died, he gave his collection to the French nation and the pieces now form the backbone of the Impressionist collection at the Musée d’Orsay.
– The couple walking in the foreground of the painting is strolling down the rue de Turin, which intersects with the rue de Moscou immediately behind them. This intersection still exists today and looks remarkably similar.
– Caillebotte owned property in this neighborhood and his friend and fellow artist Edouard Manet lived less than five minutes from this intersection.
This monumental painting currently greets visitors when they enter the museum’s Impressionist galleries, but it’s about to leave Chicago for a short time for an upcoming exhibition devoted to the artist. In advance of its departure in mid-June, we invite you to revisit this masterpiece and test out some of your new knowledge on your friends/family/fellow visitors!
Image Credit: Gustave Caillebotte. Paris Street; Rainy Day, 1877. Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection.
POSTED BY Katie R., ON April 30, 2015, Comments Off on Conservation FAQs
Earlier this week, painting conservator Allison Langley began working on Francis Picabia’s Edtaonisl in full view of the Art Institute’s visitors. And as you might imagine, our visitors have LOTS of questions. So to ensure that Allison can get some work done over the next few months, we’ve included some FAQs below.
Please feel free to add any additional questions you might have in the comments and click here for details about the conservation of this monumental painting.
Q. How many conservators are there at the Art Institute?
A. It’s a large department, in part divided by categories of artworks. There are 17 conservators, 3 conservation scientists, and a team of interns and fellows. The conservators are spread across 6 different areas: paintings, objects (sculpture), works on paper, photography, books, and textiles. They examine, research, and restore the works in the collection, and generally monitor the condition of the artworks in the museum’s galleries and storage to ensure their long-term preservation. The conservation scientists work across all the departments, and they study the materials, processes, and techniques used by artists, right down to the analysis of individual paint samples and particles. It’s helpful to think of the conservators as surgeons and the conservation scientists as the pathologists. Of course all of the conservators and conservation scientists work closely with the curators on the research and treatment.
Q. What sort of training and background do museum conservators have?
A. Very extensive and very technical! Conservators are first required to have studied studio art, art history, and chemistry at the undergraduate level as a pre-requisite for entering a graduate program to study art conservation. There are 3 such programs in the United States and several in Europe and Canada from which conservators receive a postgraduate Master’s degree. The programs are small—5-10 people per year—and it generally takes 3 or 4 years to complete the degree, depending on the program. Multi-year internships, and hands-on experiences, are the critical last steps for a conservator’s training.
Q. How do you decide which artworks need to get treated?
A. These decisions are the result of an ongoing dialogue among the museum’s conservators and curators in which a variety of factors come into play. Treatment priority is generally given to stabilization and structural treatments to extend the life of the artwork. In other instances the decision to treat a painting may be driven by aesthetic issues. The schedule of the work is often determined by exhibition priorities, such as another institution requesting the painting for an exhibition (as is the case with Francis Picabia’s Edtaonisl).
Q. How long does the treatment of a painting usually take?
A. The time of treatment varies widely and really depends on the size and condition of the work of art and the type of treatment needed. For example, research on and treatment of Henri Matisse’s Bathers by a River took a few years, as is our current work on a medieval Spanish altarpiece. Sometimes simple treatments last just a few hours or days, like the work on Magritte’s Time Transfixed. The cleaning of Gustave Caillebotte’s Paris Street; Rainy Day, which was done in preparation of that painting’s loan to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. lasted for about a year.
Q. How often are paintings treated and/or cleaned?
A. The goal is to treat a painting as infrequently as possible. And we do lots of upkeep—for example, we regularly dust the works in the galleries, just as you would dust the objects in your house. But anything more than that is done on an as-needed basis. When a work is cleaned and treated, we aim to have the treatment last 50-100 years, or more.
Q. Where do you take the x-rays and other technical images?
A. We actually have an x-ray unit—just like at the hospital—here at the museum, and conservators using it stand behind lead screens. We also use medical and industrial x-ray film that we process and develop in-house. We then scan the film and make composite images as a road map for the treatment of a particular work. The Picabia painting, for example, required 96 sheets of 14×17 x-ray film and 5 hours to complete. Many additional hours will be required to digitize the images and assemble a seamless mosaic composite.
Q. Do the x-rays harm the artwork?
A. No, they don’t. The x-rays have very low levels of radiation.
Q. What is varnish?
A. Varnish is a clear resin coating applied to the surface of a work of art. Artists from the medieval era through the 19th century have used varnish on their paintings. Medieval artists used an egg mixture as a “finishing” layer; and resin-based (and now synthetic resin) varnishes came into more common use in later eras. The Impressionists were among the first artists to stop using varnish regularly, though collectors and dealers often varnished their works afterward. Varnish is applied mainly to achieve a particular aesthetic effect. It deepens and intensifies colors and usually adds gloss to the surface.
When it comes to Impressionist and Modern paintings, much of the work of the conservator is focused on removing varnish from paintings that were never meant to have it. Varnish can change color and contrast relationships, throwing them out of balance and subverting the artist’s intentions. Removing varnish in these cases helps to re-establish the correct relationships and returns the surface to a more matte appearance. This is especially important with large paintings because a less reflective surface enables the viewer to see the whole of the painting without the interference of reflections.
Q. Isn’t the daylight bad for the painting?
A. It’s actually the UV light in daylight that is the most harmful for paintings, as it is for your skin. As a result, we use UV-blocking film on the windows throughout the museum to filter out the harmful light, and actively monitor light levels throughout the museum.
Q. How long will the painting be in this gallery?
A. We estimate that the work will be done in late September.
Q. Where will it go when it is finished?
A. When Allison has completed the painting’s treatment, it will return “home” to the third floor galleries of the Modern Wing. In the summer of 2016 it will travel to Zurich and then New York City as part of a major Picabia retrospective exhibition.
Q. How long has the treatment been going on?
A. Since the fall of 2014. The first phase, which required a ventilation system for the use of cleaning solvents took place in the conservation labs from September 2014 to March of this year. In April we moved the painting to its current location.
Q. Why is the conservator not here all day long?
A. Conservators have many projects and the Picabia treatment is one of several that Allison is currently working on. She also performs regular preventive care for other works in the collection.
Q. How will the conservator reach the top half of the painting?
A. We will turn the painting upside down. We promise that Allison will not be suspended from the ceiling to work on the painting!
Q. What are those weird glasses on her head?
A. They are magnifying glasses that are referred to as “head loupes,” like a jeweler would wear.
Q. What is the small machine with nozzles and vents next to her?
A. That’s an air purifier to ensure that the solvents and pigments that she’s using do not spread beyond the workspace.
Image Credit: Painting conservator Allison Langley working on Francis Picabia’s Edtaonisl (Ecclesiastic), 1913. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Armand Bartos.
Painting conservation usually happens in the museum’s conservation studios, but this spring and summer, museum visitors are in for a special treat. In a first-of-its-kind public demonstration, conservation work on Francis Picabia’s Edtaonisl (pronounced ed-town-easel) will be performed in full view of museum visitors at the base of the spiral staircase in the Art Institute’s Morton Wing.
Now don’t get us wrong, we love making our visitors happy, but that’s not why we’re staging conservation in this location. Rather, this step of the extensive conservation treatment calls for natural light—lots and lots of natural light. So the painting moved today from the Modern Wing to one of the museum’s most sun-drenched spaces, Gallery 135, just outside the gallery of Indian art of the Americas.
We’ll have much more on the conservation of Edtaonisl in the coming weeks, but for now we wanted to take you on the painting’s journey through the museum as it moved to its new temporary home.
It began its trek through the Modern Wing’s Griffin Court. . .
then carefully rolled through the Alsdorf Galleries of Indian, Southeast Asian, and Himalayan Art. . .
made its way through the Asian Art galleries. . .
until it reached its light-filled home in the Morton Wing.