Friday, January 18, 2013

Catrinas and Floor Burger: Our AGO Visit, Part II

Sarah and the ofrenda
On the way out of the Frida & Diego show—after passing through the obligatory gift shop, of course—we came upon a vividly-coloured room that was an homage to the Mexican celebration, Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). The two long walls were painted in a blue tint that was very close to that of La Casa Azul, the Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico City, while the end walls were a brilliant yellow. On the right-hand side as we entered there was an ofrenda for Frida and Diego, an altar to honour the departed pair where visitors to the exhibition could leave their own personal offerings. Note the propensity of yellow marigolds; the Aztecs called them zempoaxochitl, or "flowers of death". The AGO supplied paper flowers for visitors to write their own messages on and then leave on the altar if they wished. The ofrenda itself was created and constructed by Carlomagno Pedro Martínez, Mexican artist and artisan.

Sarah dwarfed by una catrina
On the left-hand wall, opposite the altar, hung three enormous and fantastic papier mâché sculptures. On the AGO site it says they are three "Judas figures"; however, it appeared to me that there was only one Judas figure flanked by two catrinas (sometimes called "Posadas"), which are Mexican folk art pieces depicting well-dressed skeletons, modeled after La Calavera Catrina ("The Dapper Skeleton") by Jose Guadalupe Posada. Either way, these huge, eye-catching creations certainly got my attention upon our arrival in this room. They were all created for the show by the Toronto theatre company Shadowland. I wondered if, at first, that wall supported three Judas figures (as the AGO's website says) and Shadowland needed to exchange catrinas for two of them, perhaps due to a production; however, all the pictures I have seen of this room show the same three figures which were there the day we attended. This humourous business-skeleton (pictured at left, dwarfing Sarah) was on the far right of the three sculptures; here are some pictures of the rest of them, from various perspectives:

Grumpy P and the Judas
Judas figure menacing a patron of the AGO

Close-up of the military catrina

At the end of the room, against a yellow-painted wall, stood two final catrinas representing Frida and Diego themselves. This picture is a little blurry: I had to rush the shot as the room was very crowded at this point and I wanted to take advantage of a rare and fleeting moment of clear access to the display:

Las catrinas "Frida y Diego"

Floor Burger conservation area
After we left the Frida & Diego exhibition we started to make our way to an entirely different sort of showing by Evan Penny, which I will expand upon at greater length tomorrow. Along the way we came upon a cordoned-off area where AGO conservator Sherry Phillips has been preparing Claes Oldenburg's Floor Burger sculpture for an upcoming loan to MoMA. The piece turned fifty years old in 2012 and there are many challenges to be faced in trying to transport this fan favourite to New York, including the timing of the move. Even though the MoMA show isn't until April, there is a small window of opportunity to bring all the pieces of Oldenburg's sculpture out through a large loading dock when the Frida & Diego show is dismantled and removed from the gallery next month. The restoration time has, therefore, been compressed quite a bit but the conservator, Sherry Phillips, seemed to be unperturbed by this. We were lucky enough to speak to her while we were admiring the work area; as I was lining up a picture of Sarah in front of one of the bun pieces a voice sounded from behind me and asked, "Would you like a little more light on the subject?" I answered that that would be a terrific idea and Ms. Phillips entered her work space and turned on a couple of the floods that were there. She then proceeded to give us (and one other patron) a very engaging glimpse into the activity, the process and the history of the sculpture itself. Some of this information may be found on the gallery's website but it was very cool indeed to hear the enthusiasm in her voice as she spoke of her labours.

AGO conservator Sherry Phillips with some unexpected stuffing
We were shown some of the treasures that she has pulled out of the insides of the sections of Floor Burger, including the sections of foam (expected) and old ice cream containers (not so expected) that she is holding up in this picture. She pointed out some of the zippers the sculpture contains, the better to stuff (and restuff) the sections. She also spoke at some length regarding the process of fixing the flaking paint so that it will not come off the sculpture in transit; we learned she is not "retouching" it in any way but, beyond that, the more technical components to the job were lost on me (although Sarah was very absorbed, indeed). Lastly, she showed us the specially-constructed "sliding pad" (seen in the above picture as well) that the gallery put together for the upcoming shipment. Obviously our timing was perfect because this little talk was fascinating and completely unexpected. We thanked Ms. Phillips, took the picture we were about to shoot when she arrived...

Sarah and the Burger

...and proceeded to the Evan Penny exhibition, subject of tomorrow's blog piece.

Because, really: there is no way to smoothly transition here to what I will be showing you tomorrow...


  1. The MOMA show is actually part of a touring exhibition. Ms. Phillips told us that the Floor Burger will only appear in the New York showing of the exhibition. She was great to talk to!

    Here is more info about The Street and The Store.

    And here is a page on the AGO's site where you can read more about the conservation efforts.

    1. I had forgotten about that aspect of the MoMa show. Thanks!

      I was going to include that link as well, but the AGO is calling it "Claes Oldenburg: the 60s" and the show they link to (which you did as well) has that other name attached. I wasn't 100% sure it was the same show. :)

      Also, I did link to that "Conservation Notes" blog in the body of my piece here, but to a different (earlier) post than the one dealing with the paint make-up. Now people can click on either, though, so it works out so much the better. Thanks!


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