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Master Work

Watch as German expressionist Max Beckmann's Blind Man’s Buff receives the restoration treatment.

Blind Man’s Buff

German expressionist Max Beckmann painted his masterpiece Blind Man’s Buff mostly by candlelight, in an attic in Amsterdam, at the height of World War I. The painting, and Beckmann himself, might easily have been lost in the upheaval of the era, but both survived. The painting, however, needs some work—and, beginning later this month, it’s getting special attention to ensure its survival. The restoration process will take three months, and—through the exhibit Restoring a Masterwork III: Max Beckmann’s Blind Man’s Buff—the public is invited to watch.

Since the 1950s, Blind Man’s Buff has occupied a privileged place in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts’ early modern collection. “The Beckmann is a marvel. It’s one of our 20th-century treasures,” says assistant curator Erika Holmquist-Wall. “The fact that a painting of this size survived the war and made it out of Europe is pretty incredible.”

The large-scale painting depicts a nightclub cabaret populated by modern partygoers and mythical figures. “There’s a lot going on. He’s looking back to the past and pulling together all these interesting elements of history,” says Holmquist-Wall. “He loads his pictures with these puzzles and symbolism.”

The conservatorial issues with Blind Man’s Buff are subtler than with the two previous public restoration projects undertaken by the MIA—large baroque paintings by Castiglione and Guercino. But while the restoration work itself may be less dramatic this time around, the process holds its own allure.

“Everybody has a concept of what conservation and restoration are,” says Joan Gorman, conservator for the project. (Gorman works for the nonprofit Midwest Art Conservation Center, which has a longstanding relationship with the MIA.) Restoring a masterwork is an interesting process, she says. “I think people are intrigued.” Nov. 18–Feb. 23. Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 612-870-3000, artsmia.org

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