It’s not easy to recreate a work of art. But it’s even harder when it doesn’t even exist anymore.
But for Institute of Contemporary Art senior curator Jenelle Porter and a team of faculty, students and alumni from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, the recreation of fiber artist Robert Rohm’s “Rope Piece” was a mission waiting to be conquered. Now, the piece will be displayed at the ICA’s upcoming show “Fiber: Sculpture 1960 – Present,” which will be the first exhibition in 40 years to examine the evolution of fiber art from the mid-20th century to the present.
It’s been a long road for Porter, who began researching the show four years ago.
“I had (Rohm’s) work up on my bulletin boards, and said ‘I need to include this work.’ Then I learned it didn’t exist anymore through conversations with his widow,” says Porter, who discovered “Rope Piece” had long since been dismantled and discarded. It was then she determined to recreate Rohm’s work, but considering the only information she had was a few black and white photos and a bit of written research, she realized she needed to call in some help.
The team from MassArt dove into research, searching for any details that could give clues of the colors and dimensions of “Rope Piece,” which Rohm originally made by putting nails in the wall, and then tying the rope with a slipknot into a grid. He’d then manipulate the grid by either unfastening or cutting some of the knots from the ropes.
For the students recruited to assist, installing a massive work in the ICA was a dream come true. The students researched the types of knots Rohm used, and tested samples to best match each stain’s shade.
“It's not every day you get to recreate someone’s art work and be able to show it at the ICA,” says 2014 Mass Art graduate Ashley Fuhrmann. “We began with researching the materials Rohm used in his work, then acquired the materials, sisal rope and brown oil wood stain. We stained the rope using this stain in the same manner as Rohm.”
“Once we figured out what matched best we started staining thousands of feet of rope,” says MassArt senior Jesse Schissler. "Which ended up being back-breaking, working for 6 hours in the sun one day this summer.”
While it’s now just freshly painted wall and 8000 square feet of empty space, the team will gather to install “Rope Piece” at the ICA on Friday, September 19. For many of them, the installation date couldn’t come soon enough.
“To recreate the work is to step into the artist's mind and see what he saw,” says Fuhrmann. “I honestly can't wait to see the finished product. It’s something we have all worked very hard on so that we would be able to share Robert Rohm's work with the world.”
“Fiber: Sculpture 1960 – Present” opens Oct. 1 at the Institute of Contemporary Art.