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Detail of Meg Saligman’s “Common Threads” (1997; restored 2011). (Photo: Steve Weinik/City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program)

Art preservation is tricky even under ideal circumstances, which generally involve close controls for light, temperature, humidity and other hazards. Eliminate those and you have some idea of the challenge that street-mural preservation faces. The only surviving exterior work in the U.S. by the renowned Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, Los Angeles’s “América Tropical” (1932), is only now receiving a roof. Ironically, its longevity is due to a paint-over that preserved it from the ravages of nature. Most murals, in a world of unfriendly ordinances and inevitable shifts in the urban landscape, are not so fortunate. Happily, a number of national and local organizations have recently mobilized to ensure that the preservation of murals need not be any more difficult than rain, snow and sun already render it.

The organization Heritage Preservation launched a “Rescue Public Murals” initiative in December 2006, using funding from the Getty Conservation Institute and the National Endowment for the Arts. It first conducted a national assessment, paying particular attention, according to project director Kristen Laise, to “cities which had a long history of mural creation or of issues with preservation.” Then it selected for examination 16 murals in locations ranging from a commuter rail underpass to an abandoned church, and depicting topics from the end of the Marcos dictatorship to the laborers of San Francisco’s Chinatown.


Anthony Paletta
Wall Street Journal


The Orange County Government Center in Goshen, N.Y., has been closed since it was damaged by storms in September. (Photo: Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

As Modernist buildings reach middle age, many of the stark structures that once represented the architectural vanguard are showing signs of wear, setting off debates around the country between preservationists, who see them as historic landmarks, and the many people who just see them as eyesores.

The conflict has come in recent months to this quaint village 60 miles north of New York City — with its historic harness-racing track, picturesque Main Street and Greek Revival, Federal and Victorian houses — where the blocky concrete county government center designed by the celebrated Modernist architect Paul Rudolph has always been something of a misfit.

“I just don’t think it fits with the character of the county seat and the village of Goshen,” said Leigh Benton, an Orange County legislator who grew up in the area. “I just thought it was a big ugly building.”


Robin Pogrebin
New York Times

Haring painting the mural at Collingwood Technical College in 1984, and right, the work in 2010

Arts Victoria is expected to lodge a permit application with Heritage Victoria shortly so that it can begin conservation work on Keith Haring’s last surviving large-scale mural in Australia. The proposed move has prompted protest from art world figures, the local council and the Keith Haring Foundation, who have called for the mural to be repainted in accordance with the late artist’s wishes, rather than being preserved in its current state.

Time, neglect and the elements have taken their toll on the mural, painted on the former Collingwood Technical College in 1984 at the behest of John Buckley, then the director of the Australian Centre for Contemp­orary Art (ACCA). A campaign to prevent the work from fading away began in earnest in 2010 (The Art Newspaper, June 2010, p8). In April 2011, Arts Victoria released a conservation management plan that calls for “urgent conservation works” including an investigation of the materials used by Haring, cleaning, “selective retouching”, stabilisation and the application of a protective coating. A spokeswoman for Arts Victoria says: “It is important to note that the [plan] does not rule out overpainting the mural in the future should appropriate materials become available that would not destroy the original paint work.”


Emily Sharpe
The Art Newspaper

The Dia Art Foundation is positioned to re-claim the lease for the 10 acres of state land on which Robert Smithson’s masterwork Spiral Jetty sits as early as this week, MAN has learned. Dia will meet with officials from the Utah Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands in Utah on Thursday, at which point DNR and Dia will hold what could be the final negotiation to determine terms for a new lease.

Spiral Jetty, located just off Rozel Point in the north of the Great Salt Lake, is one of the most influential artworks of the 20th century and is widely regarded as the world’s greatest earthwork.


Tyler Green
Art Info

Sambor Preh Kok, in Cambodia: a Khmer masterpiece of fired-brick architecture

Here’s another list of important cultural heritage sites to worry about: 20 “on the verge” of experiencing irreversible, irreparable loss and destruction, according to the Global Heritage Fund.

Like UNESCO and the World Monuments Fund, GHF aims to shine a light on endangered sites; the main difference from them, as far as I can tell, is that GHF focuses exclusively on the developing world and it adds an economic argument for preservation.

For more and a list of the 20 sites:

Judith H. Dobrzynski
Real Clear Arts

Gagarin’s portrait is covered so that he won’t have to look at the decrepitude of the 1966 Space Pavilion. Photograph: Justin McGuirk

From the pedestrian bridge that crosses the Moskva river towards the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour you normally have a clear view of the Kremlin. But for several days last week its fairytale towers had disappeared behind an acrid grey pall. With the thermometer stuck at a record-shattering 40C and the smog hidden by smoke from the burning marshes outside the city, this was a hellish Moscow that none of its residents had ever seen before.

I was in the city to give a talk at a new school, the Strelka Institute of Architecture, Media and Design. Located just across the river from the cathedral, the Strelka occupies the garages of the former Red October chocolate factory, which until two years ago had been producing chocolate on that site since the late 19th century. The school only opened earlier this summer but already it’s one of the liveliest nightspots in the city, with film screenings, clubs and a restaurant frequented by Moscow’s glamorous media set. If you’re thinking that this doesn’t sound much like a school, then you’d have a point, but we’ll address that later. In all other senses the sight of a former industrial complex being turned into a cultural hotspot is one that we’ve been accustomed to in Europe and the US for several decades. In Russia, however, it’s a more recent phenomenon.

One reason is that the gradual switch from an industrial to a services economy didn’t begin until the Yeltsin years. And it was only around the turn of the millennium that developers started to speculate on factories (the more unscrupulous ones earned the description “raiders”). The other factor in the slow speed of the post-industrial project is that the Russians appear to value new things more than old ones.


Justin McGuirk

Chicago’s preservation advocacy groups did not rally to save the Ludwig Mies van der Rohe-designed hut (behind fence) at the Illinois Institute of Technology. (Tribune photo by Abel Uribe)

Here’s a sentence I never thought I would write: It was good to see the demolition crews pulling down the building by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Mies, as all architecture buffs know, was the master of steel-and-glass modernism, a towering intellect who loved to smoke a good cigar and to toss off aphorisms like: “We don’t invent a new architecture every Monday morning.”

But the building, whose demolition began in earnest on Monday, isn’t one of his masterpieces. It’s a squat brick hut at the southwest corner of the Illinois Institute of Technology that a cadre of earnest bloggers have attempted to elevate to the status of a minor gem.

Never mind that Chicago’s preservation advocacy groups did not rally to their cause. Or that Mies’ grandson, Chicago architect Dirk Lohan, said of the building: “Mies probably told some junior member (of his office) to do this thing. … You can’t write architectural history with that building.”


Blair Kamin
Chicago Tribune

Shift is composed of six zigzagging concrete walls. (Photo: Eamon MacMahon)

After considerable delay, an important and controversial vote is expected to be taken Monday by councillors in King Township, about 50 kilometres north of Toronto, on the fate of a meandering outdoor cement installation erected almost 40 years ago by internationally acclaimed American minimalist sculptor Richard Serra.

Discussions and negotiations over the Serra have been going on for almost five years. In early 2008, King Township’s heritage committee first pressed their council for heritage designation. Two years ago, Serra himself wrote to the committee, thanking it for its “sustained efforts” to “preserve the existence of this work. I hope you will prevail.”


James Adams
Globe and Mail

The Makakovskaya metro is considered the most beautiful station on the underground rail system

Moscow’s skyline and architectural heritage are on the verge of being destroyed forever because of low-quality renovations and thoughtless demolition, according to a report released yesterday by a group of Russian and international activists.

“There is no other capital city in peacetime Europe that is being subjected to such devastation for the sake of earning a fast megabuck,” the Moscow Architecture Preservation Society stated in its report. The authors said that hundreds of important buildings – from 19th-century palaces to masterpieces of Stalinist architecture – were being neglected or demolished.

The problems have been blamed on a lack of legal consequences for developers who ruin listed buildings. Critics of the system say that opaque development plans mean the public is left in the dark until works are under way. And while the financial crisis has slowed down some of the more rapacious developers, the dried-up cash flow also means that there is less money to spend on quality renovation work.

“An all-round lowering of standards, the triumph of vandalism and the obstruction of every last vacant space on the skyline is the legacy that the last decade has bequeathed to Moscow,” wrote Anna Bronovitskaya, an art historian. The report also blamed “a theme park approach to an historic city” and an overabundance of cars.

Even where attempts had been made to renovate historical buildings or build within the architectural context of the area, the results were often atrocious. The report spoke of “bloated sham replicas of historic buildings” dominating the skyline.

An earlier version of the report was published two years ago but the authors said that after a pause in the demolition of listed buildings and an increased willingness on the part of city authorities to listen to public concerns, former service was soon resumed.

“There has been no progress in the last two years, things have got worse and worse,” said David Sarkisyan, the director of the Shchusev State Museum of Architecture in Moscow.

“This is probably a battle that we are not going to win, but it’s one that is very important to fight.”


Shaun Walker
The Independent


Ever since the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) created its World Heritage Sites program in 1972, countries have vied furiously to appear on the list. The designations, which recognize places for their “outstanding universal value,” enhance a country’s pride, draw hordes of tourists and boost business.

It takes work–documentation, planning and often politicking–to win Heritage status. But it’s worth it, especially for developing countries. In the program’s 37 years, the honor has been granted to 890 cultural treasures around the globe.

Make that 890, this year, minus one. On June 26, the committee stripped Dresden, Germany, of its heritage status, which it gained in 2004. Dresden’s sin was building the four-lane Waldschloesschen Bridge across the Elbe Valley site, a 12-mile cultural landscape that runs along the river and takes in Ubigau Palace, Pillnitz Palace and a raft of parks and monuments that made Dresden worthy in the first place.

I’m sorry for Dresden, but UNESCO deserves applause for taking this action. Often a punching bag for malcontents who blast its bureaucracy and its ineffectiveness, the U.N. agency carries the usual baggage associated with all U.N. arms. But while it sometimes struggles to manage the Heritage program, it has few tools to ride herd on countries after their sites have been designated.


Judith H. Dobrzynski