The museum garden is blanketed under snow, and the open-air gallery halls are calm in the cold. Underground in the Noguchi Museum education center, spectators warm up with a lively discussion of Isamu Noguchi’s life and work, as part of the monthly Second Sundays program.
Second Sundays is the Noguchi Museum’s monthly interactive event intended to complement the museum’s collection. February’s program, “Conservation Case Studies,” featured Leslie Gat in conversation with Dakin Hart, senior curator at the museum, and Matthew Kirsch, associate curator, and a presentation of four Noguchi pieces that have undergone or are undergoing reconstruction.
Gat is the principal objects conservator at the Art Conversation Group. She spoke about the goals and challenges of conserving a damaged work of art, and presented some of the pieces she has worked on, which included a portrait bust with a chipped nose, and a steel sculpture that had been splattered by saltwater in Hurricane Sandy. Through the explanation of the conservation process, the audience got an insight into Noguchi’s philosophy and methods. For example by using whatever materials were available, Noguchi sometimes ended up sculpting with cardboard or dental plaster; he embraced impure metals for their heterogeneous color.
For Gat, working with the Noguchi Museum, which she has been doing for almost two decades, is “a real joy.” Participating in Second Sundays gives her the opportunity to enhance spectators’ experience of the museum itself, and to “help people understand what they’re looking at.”
Second Sundays are part presentation, part conversation. Gat, Hart and Kirsch fielded questions from the audience and discussed topics ranging from Noguchi’s penniless travels in a borrowed car to the harrowing recovery process after Hurricane Sandy washed through the museum.
The experts also debated technique among themselves. For Hart, this public dialogue is part of the significance and appeal of Second Sundays.
“It’s fun,” he said, to “think things through, in real time, in front of an audience with good questions. I think that’s a really valuable process, and it’s exciting to give people a behind-the-scenes look at what we do.”
Gary Mizel, a Long Island City resident for more than 20 years and a veteran audience member at Second Sundays, thought that “Conservation Case Studies” was “the best [session] they’ve had so far,” largely because even after his dozens of visits to the museum he saw something new: “the two sculptures that they rolled out in the end were unique, different than any of the permanent pieces.”
Next month’s Second Sunday features Brett Littman, executive director of The Drawing Center in Manhattan, speaking with Hart about the importance of Noguchi’s drawings in the development of his style. As spring approaches, Second Sundays will likely move outdoors to the museum garden.