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A Tree Blossoms in Brooklyn

In preparation for the exhibition Sanford Biggers: Sweet Funk—An Introspective, conservators took part in preparing and installing Blossom, 2010, a recent acquisition to the collection.

Jakki Godfrey, objects conservator adjusting leaves on Sanford Biggers, Blossom, 2010.

Blossom is a mixed-media installation depicting a life-size sculpture of an oak tree extending out of the ground and through a real baby grand piano. A MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) player piano system programmed to play the artist’s original arrangement of the American jazz standard “Strange Fruit” comprises the sound element of the installation.

The conservation of a contemporary mixed media art installation such as Blossom is challenging;  not only do the physical materials (epoxy, wood, dirt, etc.) require preservation but consideration must also be given to the variable media component (MIDI) as well as documenting its installation for future generations.

When the work first arrived at the museum it, like more traditional artworks, was examined and construction and condition issues were documented.  As is typical with recent contemporary art acquisitions a questionnaire was sent to the artist to ascertain information such as what materials were used in its construction, how the object should be installed and what the artist deems as important to the preservation of the piece.  With Blossom, I was able to discuss these issues with the artist directly in front of his piece.  During these discussions it was found that the MIDI system was not working correctly and needed to be replaced by professional piano technicians.   Additionally the artist determined that some subtleties of the music composition were not being recognized by the MIDI system and so came to the museum to rework the songs directly on Blossom.

Creating a set of installation instructions to be included in Blossom’s conservation file for use in future installations is of particular importance to its preservation.  Some of the following photos show conservators working with the art handling team during installation of the work for the upcoming exhibition. To begin, the separate components of the tree were put together. After it was assembled, conservator’s filled the seams between branches with Roma Plastilina, modeling clay. The fills were textured with silicone molds and inpainted to match the tree’s texture and color rendering the seams invisible.

Silk leaves were inserted into the branches and were steamed to release any wrinkles that accumulated during storage. Finishing touches included placing dirt around the base of the tree and placing the piano bench.