Restoration of a Wim Delvoye display cabinet
This month, we take you behind the scenes with Brian Richardson, a specialist in the conservation and restoration of wooden objects and furniture. Brian recently worked on an unusual installation by contemporary Flemish artist Wim Delvoye, which consists of a display case containing 12 saw blades and a gas bottle, each piece painted in Delft blue. This finely crafted antique cabinet references the Flemish neo-styles with their richly carved auburn wood and glossy varnish.
“The antique “look” of the cabinet does not immediately suggest how it is constructed. In fact, the entire structure is dismountable. The walls, base, and crowning are not fixed with wooden joints but are held together with a few bolts, making the whole thing rather unstable. The additional problem is that the glass door at the front is different from the usual format for such a cabinet. An antique display case would usually have two doors that open from the center with several small panes of glass. When this door is opened, it drops down. With the cabinet also dangerously lifting forward, there is a real chance it could topple forward.”
“The removable aspect of the artwork did make its restoration easier. The furniture was completely taken apart in order for me to work on the structure. After much thought and consultation, the approach was outlined. At the bottom of the side walls, four new wooden joints were provided to connect the walls to the base. This invisible intervention significantly improves the stability of the cabinet and counteracts toppling. Lastly, four L-shaped brackets were installed on the back of the furniture.”
“In addition to these major structural interventions, smaller treatments such as gluing cracks, filling gaps in the wood, and retouching old impact damage were also performed.”
“Due to its complexity, restoring this antique/contemporary display case presented an enormous challenge, but the result was all the more satisfying.”