Research and Conservation: Drawing from Tank by Edward and Nancy Kienholz

The Paintings Conservation Department at the Hugh Lane Gallery is carrying out a conservation and research project into this unconventional artwork by Edward and Nancy Kienholz in the Hugh Lane Gallery’s collection, in collaboration with the Conservation department at the National Gallery of Ireland and the Heritage Council.

Drawing from Tank featured in the 1996 exhibition by Kienholz at the Hugh Lane called The Merry-Go-World or Begat By Chance and the Wonder Horse Trigger, and was acquired by the gallery the following year. The exhibition featured a range of case studies of different people’s lives around the world including Tank, the subject of this artwork. Tank was a child living in a ‘shotgun house’ in Texas. Many of the items featured in the artwork, such as the plates and tins, belonged to Tank and her family.

This research aims to characterise the materials present in the artwork and understand how they have been applied and interact with each other, using both scientific analysis and documentary evidence.

The work has a thick layer of soiling throughout, however the artwork was created with an intentional dirty finish in order to illustrate Tank and her family’s poverty. Through a combination of technical analysis, information gained from interviews with the artists (as well as those who knew their practice), and research into previous treatments on similar works, a level of cleaning and treatment will be proposed. Technical analysis carried out in collaboration with the National Gallery’s Scientific Research department included X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) spectroscopy, Fourier-Transform Infrared (FTIR) microscopy and portable FTIR analysis in reflection, pH and conductivity readings, as well as digital microscopy. A 3D scan was also undertaken to better understand and communicate the work’s condition.

Following careful testing on all the different materials present, the treatment will be carried out. It will be important during this stage to avoid removing any elements of aging which the artists valued and intended to be present the work.

‘I think it actually makes them more beautiful. And we all get old… and I think that so does art, and I think it’s okay.” – Nancy Reddin-Kienholz

  • Artists

    From 1972 onwards Edward Kienholz, himself already established as an often controversial artist in Los Angeles since the 50s, produced artworks alongside his wife Nancy Reddin-Kienholz. They became known for installation artworks which envelop the viewer and urge them to confront various topics such as racism, abortion and wealth disparity, which remain relevant today.

    Edward and Nancy Kienholz set up a studio and gallery in Hope, Idaho where they often hosted other emerging artists. They worked between their studios in Idaho and Berlin until Edward’s death in 1994. Nancy continued to produce artworks and manage their estate until her death in 2019.

Carrying out technical analysis using a portable X-ray Fluorescence (XRF) analyser.

Creating a 3-D digital scan of the work.

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Figure in Grey Sean Scully 1989