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Kunsthaus Zürich

Fischli / Weiss: False Idols

Conservation project

The ‘False Idols’ are part of the ‘Fever’ series created between 1983 and 1984 by the artist duo Fischli/Weiss. The approximately 25 large-format, space-enveloping sculptures were produced in two stages for exhibitions at the Monika Sprüth gallery in Cologne in 1983 and the Crousel-Hussenot gallery in Paris in 1984. The work in question here was purchased in 1984 by the Zürcher Kunstfreunde shortly after it was first shown in Paris. Of the remaining works in the series, some are now in private or public collections, some are held by the artist, while others no longer exist.

The ‘False Idols’ have only been exhibited once at the Kunsthaus. The fragile sculpture exhibits some damage primarily attributable to transport and handling. As part of the installation project that continues in the Kunsthaus Collection until May 2019, it is being analysed and treated to conserve it – partly with public access – and will then be put on display.

Carved in stone?
What at first glance looks like stone is actually polyurethane, a material that is mainly used as insulation in the construction industry but not often to produce a sculpture. The foam is highly sensitive to light (making it prone to ageing) and also to pressure, which means there is a risk of damage every time the work is handled.

What needs to be done and how?
In addition to cleaning, consolidating, puttying and retouching areas of loss, an essential element of the project is to optimize handling and the existing packaging to protect the work against further damage.
Research offers some indications as to the materials and methods that might be appropriate; however, it is chiefly based on the soft polyurethane foam popular with many artists since the 1960s rather than the rigid foam used for the ‘False Idols’, which means the results are not entirely transferable. Some preliminary tests are therefore needed. Rather than conducting them on the work itself, the restorer is using a piece of foam with similar characteristics.
For optimum cleaning, dirt is being extracted from the deep structure by means of dry cleaning using a goat-hair brush, gentle compressed air and a museum vacuum cleaner to eliminate the grey bloom and improve the colour effect.
Additionally, the cracks need to be repaired using a filler that can be reworked and is as long-lasting as possible – no easy task with a material that is so sensitive to pressure and solvents. Areas of paint loss must be consolidated and retouched where necessary, bearing in mind that in addition to its importance to the work’s aesthetics, the paint must also protect the material.

Public access to the restoration process
The chief restorer, Stefanie Bründler, will be explaining her work to visitors on site and publishing new findings on information panels. Visitors can watch the restorers at work every Tuesday from 10.30 a.m. to 3.30 p.m. on the ground floor of the collection from 20 November to 15 January.

Restorers: Stefanie Bründler / Kerstin Mürer
Supported by: Ernst Göhner Foundation

In the conservation studio
Peter Fischli / David Weiss
False Idols, 1983
Polyurethane, 131 x 160 x 134 cm 
Kunsthaus Zürich, Vereinigung Zürcher Kunstfreunde, 1984
In the conservation studio
Peter Fischli / David Weiss
False Idols, 1983
Polyurethane, 131 x 160 x 134 cm
Kunsthaus Zürich, Vereinigung Zürcher Kunstfreunde, 1984