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Thursday, May 30 • 5:00pm - 5:30pm
(Objects) Three-Way Plug Three Ways: Conservation Treatments of Three Editions of Claes Oldenburg’s Cor-Ten Steel and Bronze Giant Three-Way Plug

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Claes Oldenburg created his monumental sculpture Giant Three-Way Plug in 1970. He viewed the piece as a coming together of the mechanical and the organic, and he anticipated the evolution of its patina as a reflection of the “events of nature” around it. However, almost immediately after installation, efforts were being made to arrest these evidences of nature and maintain a current image free from further deterioration. The artist himself recognized the tension between a philosophical ideal and the reality of gradual deterioration when he stated his preference for either pristine polished bronze or completely oxidized brown or green, but nothing in between. The in-between state of streaked and pockmarked Cor-Ten, graffiti, corrosion-marred bronze, and muddy footprints all distract from the conceptual nature of the monumental banal. Three editions of one artwork—in different settings and with different treatment histories—have over the course of four decades been subjected to efforts to create a balance of acceptable deterioration with respect to the artist’s vision and preservation of an artwork as an investment or permanent member of a collection and community.

The sculptures, their locations, and the conservators who treated them are as follows: 1) Edition 1 of 3, at Oberlin College, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin, Ohio, treated by Mark Erdmann of ICA-Art Conservation; 2) Edition 2 of 3 at the Saint Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, Missouri, treated by Russell-Marti Conservation Services, Inc.; and 3) Edition 3 of 3, originally created for the private collection of David Pincus and now at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, treated by Adam Jenkins of Milner+Carr Conservation.

Per the artist’s instructions, the sculptures, intended for outdoor display, were partially buried in the ground as part of their installation. Contact with the earth resulted in accelerated corrosion of the Cor-Ten steel; in addition, the welds between the bronze prongs and the Cor-Ten body of the plug were sites of severe corrosion on two versions of the sculpture. Above ground portions of Cor-Ten weathered differently due to water run-off, prevailing wind, overhanging limbs, snow and leaf accumulation, and public interaction with the artwork.

This presentation explores the deterioration of each of the three sculptures prior to conservation treatment and the conservators’ differing approaches to treatment of similar issues. Where applicable, earlier conservation treatments of each of the sculptures are briefly discussed as well.


Mark Erdmann

Objects Conservator, Intermuseum Conservation Association
Mark Erdmann earned the Post-Graduate and Professional Development diplomas in Conservation/Restoration of Fine Metalwork from West Dean College, in West Sussex England, and interned at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich England. He has been a conservator of objects at ICA Art Conservation since 2006, where he routinely encounters a broad range of objects including outdoor sculpture, terra cotta reliefs, site specific artworks, as well... Read More →
avatar for Adam Jenkins

Adam Jenkins

Conservator of Decorative Arts and Sculpture, Adam Jenkins Conservation Svcs., LLC
Adam Jenkins received his MS in Art Conservation from the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation in 2002, with an objects specialization. In the five years following, he served as Project Conservator before completing a three-year Mellon Fellowship in Objects Conservation at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. While working in the objects conservation lab at the PMA, Adam developed his interest in monumental sculpture beginning... Read More →

Marianne Russell Marti

Principal, Russell-Marti Conservation Services, Inc.
Marianne Russell Marti has been in private conservation practice since 1988, as president of Russell-Marti Conservation Services, Inc., located in Central Missouri. She holds an undergraduate degree in Art History from Washington University in St. Louis, and an MA and Certificate of Advanced Study in Art Conservation from Buffalo State College. Marianne worked for one year in the sculpture conservation department at the Victoria and Albert Museum... Read More →

Robert Marti

Russell-Marti Conservation Services
Robert Marti has been co-owner of Russell-Marti Conservation Services since 1988, with his wife Marianne Russell Marti.  After studying architecture and engineering for several years, he received his BFA from Washington University in St. Louis in 1967.  He worked for one year at General Motors in Warren, Michigan as a clay modeler, building full-scale prototype automobiles, then did graduate work in sculpture at Indiana... Read More →

Thursday May 30, 2013 5:00pm - 5:30pm
JW Marriott Grand Ballroom 3 & 4 19 S West St Indianapolis, IN 46204