A major work by Anselm Kiefer is being restored at MAXXI. The public can see the work

Starts July 4 at MAXXI in Rome, and will be on view until Sept. 22, the restoration site, open to the public, of "Sternenfall," Anselm Kiefer's massive 1998 work in need of intervention because of the complexity of its subject matter.

A large painting by Anselm Kiefer, Sternenfall from 1998, belonging to MAXXI in Rome, is going under restoration, and for the first time the museum dedicated to the arts of the 21st century is opening the site to the public. It is happening from July 4 to September 22: for the occasion, as part of the Fuori Tutto exhibition, the new display of the Maxxi Collection that showcases the vitality of the contemporary creative scene through the works of more than 50 artists, architects and photographers, Galleria Claudia Gian Ferrari is hosting the first appointment of In restauro, a new series of initiatives designed to bring to light and make accessible one of the most fascinating of museum activities, normally not visible to the public.

The first appointment includes precisely the conservation intervention carried out on the great work Sternenfall by Anselm Kiefer, curated by the teachers and students of the School of Higher Education of the Central Institute for Restoration (ICR) in Rome. Next, from October 3 to November 3, it will be the turn of Rossella Biscotti’s The Trial.

The In restauro project was born with the idea of bringing back to the exhibition spaces an exceptional “behind the scenes” activity, namely the restoration of some of the most important works in MAXXI’s permanent collection. Galleria Gian Ferrari, in fact, will be transformed into a construction site “open ”to the gaze of visitors, who will be able to see the restorers at work and closely follow the interventions to restore the original state of the works.

On the wave of previous experiences gained in Italy since the 1980s, refined over the years, and now welcomed in several international museums, the “open” restoration site transforms an internal activity of the museum into a cultural proposal, on the occasion of a collective reflection on the themes of conservation and care. The restoration of the large-scale work Sternenfall by Anselm Kiefer will see the faculty and students of the School of Higher Education of the Central Institute for Restoration engaged in a mighty intervention of structural recovery of the work by one of the most relevant artists on the international scene.

Starnenfall (“falling stars”) is part of a cycle of works made in France between 1993 and 2007 in his studio in Barjac, near Avignon. Inspired by Vincent van Gogh, the artist composes his “starry night” through a set of alphanumeric codes (the same ones used by NASA to classify stars) that refer to the numbering of prisoners in concentration camps: a tribute to the victims of the Holocaust.

This dense imagery that combines scientific thought and poetic thought, historical perspective and artistic vision, translates into dense oil-based textural mixtures that incorporate within them materials of different natures such as wood, glass, charcoal, shellac and more, and all this, weighing down on the support, ended up leading to its progressive collapse, resulting in the detachment of some parts of the thick surface pictorial layer. Given the complexity of the conservation problems, the intervention was developed following a lengthy preliminary study and research carried out as part of a degree thesis in Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage by two ICR students. In addition, the extremely fragile condition of the work made it necessary to carry out a preliminary safety intervention that allowed it to be moved from the museum’s storage rooms to the Gianferrari Gallery.

"The project intends to show, in a space shared with the public, how a major restoration operation exactly like the one conducted on one of the museum’s most important and iconic works, Sternenfall by Anselm Kiefer, is carried out," says Simona Brunetti, MAXXI Arte Conservation Office Manager. "Thanks to a well-established collaboration with the ICR, we were able to tackle this complex operation on the two giant canvases that make up this wonderful 1998 work by Kiefer. Sternenfall is a concentrate of matter that expresses the density, layering and sedimentation of an artist’s thought that overlaps and interweaves multiple layers of meaning."

“The work,” explains Paola Iazurlo of ICR’s Laboratory of Material Restoration of Contemporary Art, “presents a complex technique that associates a relatively traditional system, involving a wooden frame on which a canvas support is mounted, with a strongly textured pictorial layer, almost a kind of full-bodied stucco that incorporates elements of various natures within it, and now it is precisely this layer and its materiality, its difficult interaction with the canvas support, combined then with the large size of the work that are at the basis of the conservation problems that have occurred on the work and that have been worsening in recent years, which in fact have resulted in an obvious deformation in terms of stretching of the canvas and the detachment in some places of the overlying pictorial layer. First a preliminary study was carried out on the execution technique and degradation of the work, involving two students from the ICR’s School of Higher Education, who made this important case study the subject of their thesis, and as part of the thesis the intervention project was finalized, which is now being carried out in the form of an educational worksite within the museum’s exhibition spaces, and will then be completed at the end of the exhibition by the thesis students.”

“After an initial phase of cleaning the superficial deposits,” says Doriana Greco, one of the two student-restorers, “it was necessary to carry out safety operations, in particular the fragments of pictorial matter at risk of falling were made to fall back onto the surface, and the parts most at risk in the handling phases were protected with a temporary veiling done with Japanese paper.”

“Once this safety phase was completed,” adds colleague Simona Scimia, “to transport the work to the gallery, it was necessary to place the painting horizontally on a mobile structure. To accomplish this, on the back of the painting it was necessary to apply a paneling inside the frame lights to support the canvas and the overlying painting material. In particular, inflatable pads were made at the deformation of the canvas to accommodate its shape. The next steps will focus on recovering the flatness of the support through the re-functionalization of the frame, however, in compliance with the principle of minimal intervention that is the basis of restoration, especially with regard to contemporary works of art.”

During the opening hours of the worksite, visitors to the museum will therefore have the opportunity to witness from an exceptionally close vantage point the finalization of this important project, which involves both the recovery of the canvas’ deformations, made possible in part through a refunctionalization of the frame, and the reattachment of the pictorial impasto to the support and the subsequent removal of surface deposits. The Sternenfall restoration site will be on view Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

A major work by Anselm Kiefer is being restored at MAXXI. The public can see the work
A major work by Anselm Kiefer is being restored at MAXXI. The public can see the work

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