Philippe Parreno: Water Lilies – Restoration Project at Fondation Beyeler

The conservation and restoration of artworks has always been a responsible and demanding task. With the expansion of the concept of art and the use of new materials and technologies, contemporary art presents restorers with new challenges. This film uses the restoration project “Philippe Parreno: Water Lilies, 2012” of the Fondation Beyeler in Riehen (Basel, Switzerland) to show what these challenges are and how they can be overcome.

The French artist Philippe Parreno created the artwork “Water Lilies” for his solo exhibition at the Fondation Beyeler in 2012. As Fondation Beyeler’s Associate Curator Michiko Kono explains, Parreno’s piece is inspired by one of the highlights of the Beyeler Collection, Claude Monet’s triptych “Nymphéas”, one of the French impressionist painter’s water lily paintings painted between 1916 and 1919. Parreno created a high-tech version of it, an art installation in the water lily pond of the Fondation Beyeler, whose subtle and refined effect for the viewer is based on elaborate and precise technology. The interplay of sound and movement, which creates water lilies from water and light in the pond of the Fondation Beyeler, is achieved through techniques, materials and equipment that would not initially be associated with visual art, such as a so-called “Buttkicker”. The creative misappropriation of things is not unusual in contemporary art and ultimately anything can be used to create art. This unlimited creativity is confronted by the restorer, who – to put it simply – no longer has to be familiar only with paint and canvas, but with an unprecedented variety of materials, techniques and equipment.

So how do you preserve and restore art whose components age, break, are incompatible or no longer available? Markus Gross, Fondation Beyeler’s Chief Conservator, and Assistant Conservator Johanna Elebe talk about these challenges and some of the solutions in this film.

Restoration Project at Fondation Beyeler: Philippe Parreno: Water Lilies, 2012. Conservation of Modern Art. Riehen (Basel, Switzerland), 2018/2019.

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