Dana Miller: We knew we wanted to show this work. It was a major work. It was the only mechanized piece that Oldenburg ever made, and we knew it would require a great deal of conservation. And it seemed a real shame- I mean I don’t want to be melodramatic- but almost a tragedy to have this major work in our collection that was basically unexhibitable.
Claes Oldenburg: The Ice Bag has undergone a very careful restoration. And I’ve been watching, as the people have been creeping in and out, and making it work the way I hope it will work. When you look at it from the outside you don’t see all the little things that are making it work. It’s sort of like a human being in that respect. They got some very good people to study it. They are coming very close to what the original intentions were, which is to say, it moves up and it moves down. It twists one way then another way. And it inflates when air is pumped into it and then it deflates. So it relaxes, it pumps up, it turns. And all this is a kind of rhythm, a program, which is very interesting to watch.
Eleanora Nagy: I am an art conservator working for modern and contemporary art. We are opening the Oldenburg exhibition at the Whitney and we are in the process of completing the piece. The Ice Bag arrived as a newly made work of art in the Whitney’s collection without knowing that it is not working properly. As a consequence, directly from 1971 on, the Whitney has files and files of reports of all kinds of ‘misbehavior’ of the Ice Bag. It is described in the files as a ‘suicidal piece’ ‘a creature which is moody’ it is creeping, it is making funny noises, it is steaming, fuming, goes up into flames, and all kinds of problems. In terms of treating, as a project, something like this we always start by trying to figure out what has happened and looking into all kinds of documentation and files which might exist. The scope of work is quite large and complex. Consequently, the conservation process- working on it- becomes much more complicated. We have to look at the mechanical, electrical and all aspects also as heritage. Perhaps not as visual art heritage but technical heritage. We do a complete investigation about the materials, about the parts and pieces. It is very similar to forensic work. To be able to create a project like that we need quite a unique team. We need people who are not only the very best in their own specific field, let’s say an electrician or a toolmaker, they also have to have the special ability which makes them to be very creative but at the same time understand conservation principals.
Steve Berger: I design and build HiFi equipment, I repair musical instruments, and I play music. I would say that I was probably the initial archaeologist. I spent several days reviewing all of the earlier documentation and a couple of days looking at the machine itself and trying to assess what was wrong with it and what needed to be done. So originally I was just going to just rebuild it from the electrical standpoint as it was originally and realized that it needed a lot more than that.
Vladmir Schuster: I’m an electrical engineer. The work I usually do is involving motors and controls. I did all of the electrical components to control the motions of the motors. We did some minor repairs of the motors, supplied all of the electrical parts to replace the old parts and assembled everything with Steve together, and supplied the set of blueprints for the new system.
Julian Miller: I’m an auto body restorer. I restore classic automobiles and work on specialty automobiles. When you restore a classical automobile you have to undo what has been done to it. So you have to try to see past that to what the artist, the coachbuilder, was trying to project when they built it and get back to that. Most things such as the Ice Bag sculpture- no one documents a paint code- so really what you’re trying to do is you have to make it from scratch. There were a lot of inconsistencies when I started to strip back the layers and what we did is that we stripped back the damaged areas, repaired them, and then refinished the entire piece after matching the paint.
Ken Parker: I’m a guitar builder. So when this came up, there was a need for a seat-of-the-pants engineer, so I’m qualified. Within the bag are hundreds of hundreds of electrical and mechanical components that conspire to produce the movement. The electrical components are one system and the mechanical, another system. But they interact and perform the robotic function. So I address the mechanical needs of the sculpture.
Jan Girard: I work for architects and designers, and we do custom sewing. We were responsible for the bag part, the fabric part. So we had the original to work with. We couldn’t take it apart- that was the tricky part. So we had to create a pattern without disturbing it. And then we figured out how it was put together, and then sew it. We are used to working with a lot of fabric, but a lot of fabric that was dead weight was more difficult. It couldn’t be pinned, so all the traditional ways of putting something together- of holding something while you try to sew it- we couldn’t use any of those. We like challenges a lot, and it was a challenge.
Dana Miller: I think the thing that was really interesting for me is that Claes was sort of mystified by the inner-workings. He sort of embraced the notion of working with people who knew so much more than he did about a subject and bringing in something about which he had no knowledge. He really enjoys the idea that all of this time and energy and all of this expertise was put into something as simple and prosaic as an ice bag which doesn’t really do anything more than blow or shift like a leaf in the wind.