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Conservation | Picasso's Guitars

Photography helps MoMA conservators determine how to treat Picasso's 1913 Cubist sculpture, Still-Life with Guitar. To learn about how art changes over time, enroll in one of MoMA's courses online. Created by The Museum of Modern Art.

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Video transcript

- [Voiceover] The historical photo documentation is obviously very interesting for understanding the various transitions that the guitar took. For conservators, those photographs can inform our treatments. When the museum acquired the guitar, it was missing the triangular head stock. And when the guitar was reassembled, in about 1980, a facsimile was made. That was made of a dark coardboard, and this is the one that was displayed with the guitar for it's entire time that it's been at the museum. When you actually look at the historical photographs, the tonality of that triangular headpiece actually has much more in common with the face of the guitar, and it's not dark. One of the main treatments done for this exhibition was that new one was made, much more in line with original dimensions based on the historical photography, the color it seems to be more accurate, and the placement is more consistent as well. I think it really helps to define this front plane that extends from the head stock down through the face. The table top, which arrived at the museum with the guitar was not displayed with it initially, as you can see, it's a section that's cut directly from a pre-fabricated box, these are the staples that would have held the box together. And if you can imagine that that is the side of say the top of a box, this would have extended out further. This part that's lighter was protected from the light when the table top was installed, and then these two holes that are underneath are the holes that the table top gets pinned to the wall through. When the guitar was reassembled in 1980, it was not surface cleaned. Over the course of, at that point, it's 70 year life, it had accumulated dust and accretions from being in Picasso's studio, but then also being stored in a box. The splotches and the accretions were really distracting to the visual understanding of the guitar, and so the decision was made to give the guitar a thorough surface cleaning. Surface cleaning paper involves using various techniques ranging from erasers to soft brushes, other tools. When I was working on the guitar, I had to build up supports for my hands so that I could get down into the very tight spaces and kind of devise my own surface cleaning tools so that I could get to that depth of the knack. One of the main effects is that the overall coloration of the guitar is much more even. It helped to unify the planar elements.