One of the main interests of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía is to present recent acquisitions to the public. In keeping with our policy of exhibiting and rotating the permanent collection as much as possible, we have installed Opera by Öyvind Fahlström for the first time since its incorporation into the collection. Created in 1952-53, it is the first significant work by the artist. An exhibition room has been designed for the sole purpose of exhibiting this work in a manner which highlights its theatricality and its relationship with musical language.
This piece was produced with felt pen and India ink on different types and weights of paper and was originally found glued with polyvinyl acetate to seven fibreboard panels. The restoration project, initiated two years ago, has had the constant support and collaboration of Sharon Avery-Fahlström, a specialist in the artist’s work and his widow, and Samuel Mestre y García, a paper restorer experienced in the treatment of the artist’s work. Both provided advice on issues such as the artist’s creative process, materials and techniques, the way the work was presented by the artist, etc. Many of their contributions made the successful separation of the work from its fibreboard support possible.
This mounting system, carried out early in the history of the piece, had been done incorrectly, not only damaging its conservation with the acid materials used but also obstructing the correct installation of the piece as the artist originally intended. The treatment we undertook enabled the comprehensive restoration of the work followed by a new mounting procedure using materials that ensure the long-term preservation of this important work and facilitate its handling, exhibition and storage.
Prior to treatment, several analyses were made to determine the composition of the glue used and the fibreboard support. In addition, we performed a range of full-scale experiments on the work to determine the best way to modify it.
The first treatment consisted of the superficial cleaning of the work using a mild abrasive cleaner. After several tests, we decided to remove the fibreboard support with a microabrasion tester. This enabled the gradual sanding down of the fibreboard with full control. When we reached the glue layer we used a microstream of hot air to soften it. We then removed the soft glue mechanically with a scalpel.
Once all the fibreboard and glue were removed, a comprehensive treatment of the piece was performed on the front and back of each sheet, added elements were removed and fragile areas consolidated. The artist had used typewriter correction fluid (White-out) to paint out errors in the drawing. This fluid had changed color and texture over time and we removed it with a scalpel. We then covered the errors formerly repainted with correction fluid with paper grafts applied with neutral, reversible glue.
Once the restoration process was complete, a mounting system was devised to allow the work to be exhibited in various ways (a continuous line, turning a corner, scrolled around a pillar, etc.) as the artist intended. We therefore laminated the individual sheets to seven sections of Japanese paper (Arakaji) with a neutral and reversible glue, leaving an upper and lower border of Japanese paper to permit he work to be wrapped around pH-neutral cardboard. This board provides greater rigidity to the almost twelve-meter-long work and allows its smooth installation on the wall of the gallery.
For the final mounting, continuous anchor points were used, one of which was glued to the back of the cardboard and the other screwed to the wall. The piece could then be secured whilst maintaining the flexibility to move it both vertically and horizontally to ensure the perfect alignment of the seven consecutive panels. Finally, the work was protected with non-reflective, light and UV protection Optium acrylic glazing.