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Restoring Lumino-Kinetic art

The cases of two “Mobiles Lumineux" made by Nino Calos (1926-1990)
Steib Olivier

Abstracts

This paper sum up the different steps and decisions taken in the restoration of two “Mobiles Lumineux” made by Nino Calos (1926-1990) and conserved in the Museum of Modern Art of Paris. This article highlights the problematic of the obsolescence of the lighting systems, and how to resolve it.

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Introduction

1ln the early 1960's, Lumino-kinetic artists have expanded the kinetic art, which was the art of movement, and started to use light as a medium to create artworks in a wide range of shapes, colors, and styles. As a result, we inherited a vast patrimony which wasn't supposed to be conserved at first, often made of poor materials, and we're facing problematic rarely encountered before such as the obsolescence of industrial components.

The obsolescence problem

2The discontinuation of some lighting systems is an increasing source of problems, especially those based on fluorescence technology which evolved a lot in a short lapse of time. As time passes, old light bulbs, which were easily found, might not be anymore, thus we can't replace them as we used to. At start, it might be possible to find another bulb from a different brand with the same features, but those will eventually disappear too. This was the case we encountered during the restoration of two Mobiles Lumineux made by Nino Calos, from the museum of Modern art of Paris. They were producing a moving picture on a screen, combining light and movement. In one of them, made in 1966, were two original fluorescent tubes made by Mazda Lamps, the ancient French "Compagnie des Lampes" bought by Philips in 1983. Those bulbs stopped working, and so did the artwork. Unfortunately their short size, only 36 cm long for a diameter of 37 mm, can't be found anymore nowadays. The other mobile is still functioning, but show signs of fatigue and will soon present the same problematic

Finding the right light

3Since we couldn't find a proper replacement anywhere, we had to make one. This is where starts the work of the restorer : first we had to understand how the light was used in the artwork, how its effects serve the purpose of the artist, our main concern. Then we went through the archives, in order to find the technical features of the light source, since those weren't clearly mentioned on the bulb at this time. For example, we only found the color temperature by comparing the spectral repartition of the old tube with the spectral repartition of CIE (International Commission on Illumination) references. We knew then that the old bulbs were producing a 4150 K light, a neutral white. Finally, we had to consider the conservation of the artwork, which will guide our choices during the research of a right substitute.

Creating a substitute using new lighting technology (LED)

4With the data collected, a better comprehension of the artwork as a whole, and keeping the aspects of conservation in mind, we chose to make a light bulb using Light Emitting Diode (LED) technology. This type of light source provides many interesting features in respect of our needs : it's available in a wide range of luminance and color temperature, it's really small so it can fit nearly anywhere, and it's not harmful for the artwork since it doesn't produce UV. Moreover, it won't be disappearing anytime soon; instead, it will become more and more present as the market grows. Even though, we still had to resolve some technical difficulties such as the diffusion of light, our primary concern since the artist chose fluorescent bulbs as they emit a cold, diffuse light. Fortunately, by combining a translucent PMMA tube with latest LEDs products, we managed to reproduce the original bulbs with accuracy.

Fig.1 Mobile Lumineux 130, Nino Calos, 1966

Fig.1 Mobile Lumineux 130, Nino Calos, 1966

Front view before the restoration (on the left) and an old picture from the archives (on the right) showing the working Mobile Lumineux 130, Nino Calos, 1966.

Crédits : O. Steib, 2014 (left) A. Di Bella, 1966 (right).

Fig.2 Mobile Lumineux 130, Nino Calos, 1966, after restoration.

Fig.2 Mobile Lumineux 130, Nino Calos, 1966, after restoration.

Inside the mobile after the substitution of the lighting system (on the left) and front view of the working mobile, after its restoration (on the right).

Credits: O. Steib, 2014.

Conclusion

5The light substitutes were finally integrated into the artwork, reanimating the mobile, and achieving this unusual restoration. The next steps in this work will be the documentation using video and an exhaustive description of the removed technology. As for the other component such as the motor, the system was designed to work both in 127 and 230 V, so it doesn't have to be modified the day we change the motor or we decide to migrate from the 127 V to the actual 230 V.

6Special thanks to Dominique Gagneux, curator in the Museum of Modern Art of Paris, for entrusting me these artworks and giving me the opportunity to realize this study.

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Attachment

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List of illustrations

Title Fig.1 Mobile Lumineux 130, Nino Calos, 1966
Caption Front view before the restoration (on the left) and an old picture from the archives (on the right) showing the working Mobile Lumineux 130, Nino Calos, 1966.
Credits Crédits : O. Steib, 2014 (left) A. Di Bella, 1966 (right).
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/4346/img-1.jpg
File image/jpeg, 2.3M
Title Fig.2 Mobile Lumineux 130, Nino Calos, 1966, after restoration.
Caption Inside the mobile after the substitution of the lighting system (on the left) and front view of the working mobile, after its restoration (on the right).
Credits Credits: O. Steib, 2014.
URL http://ceroart.revues.org/docannexe/image/4346/img-2.jpg
File image/jpeg, 2.8M
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References

Electronic reference

Steib Olivier, « Restoring Lumino-Kinetic art  », CeROArt [Online], HS | 2014, Online since 16 August 2014, connection on 22 September 2017. URL : http://ceroart.revues.org/4346

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About the author

Steib Olivier

Steib Olivier is currently a student in conservation and restoration of sculptures, finishing his Master degree in which he is working on the restoration of two “Mobiles Lumineux” made by Nino Calos, a Lumino-kinetic artist. Before entering the Art School of Tours, he studied conservation and restoration at La Cambre, in Brussels, and before that he also achieved a License in Art at the University of Metz.

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Copyright

Licence Creative Commons
CeROArt – Conservation, exposition, restauration d'objets d'arts est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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