Conservation of Rafael Ferrer’s Neon Corner
October 13, 2015
In 1971, the Philadelphia-based Makler Gallery commissioned artist Rafael Ferrer to create Neon Corner in an edition of 50, and one was given to the Delaware Art Museum that same year by Dr. and Mrs. Paul Makler. Ferrer had settled in Philadelphia in 1966 and began teaching at the Philadelphia College of Art (now University of the Arts) in 1967. Ferrer’s activities between 1970 and 1971 were extensive. In January 1970, a solo exhibition was held at Leo Castelli Warehouse in New York; Ferrer’s Deflected Fountain for Marcel Duchamp was on view in May at the Philadelphia Museum of Art; and his installation was displayed in the Whitney Museum’s Sculpture Annual that winter. In 1971, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia hosted a major solo exhibition, Rafael Ferrer: Enclosures.
Influenced by minimal and conceptual art practices, Ferrer’s work from the late 1960s and early 1970s was characterized by densely filled installations of found, natural and industrial materials such as leaves, moss, telephone poles, and buckets. In Neon Corner, the artist created a simpler composition, which activates both the corner and floor of the display space with a steel pipe and radiating circle of neon light. Neon Corner was included in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s 1971 exhibition, Multiples: The First Decade, which explored the current practice of creating editions of artworks conceptualized by the artist but executed through mass production.
In fall 2013, it was determined, in consultation with numerous conservators and museum professionals, that Neon Corner was no longer safe to be displayed in the gallery due to the age of the transformer and neon tube. Neon became a more commonly used material in art beginning in the mid-1950s, and now updates in technology and refabrications are required to safely display aging neon. Ferrer was amenable, and the circle of neon was remade based on the original and a new transformer was selected with added safety features. This process involved meticulous documentation, and as Delaware Art Museum Registrar Amy Hussey, who oversaw the project, explains, “It was extremely important for the components of the artwork to remain as close to the original concept as possible, while ensuring its safety and sustainability for future display. The neon conservator we worked with was able to offer options for the Museum and the artist that met both these criteria. Every step was thoroughly documented to provide a history of what was updated.” These modifications ensure that Neon Corner can be viewed for another 40 years, if not longer.
You can find Neon Corner on view in the Lynn Herrick Sharp Gallery for Contemporary Art on the second floor of the Museum.
Associate Curator for Contemporary Art