by Ann Greer
The Phillips Collection’s Head of Conservation Elizabeth Steele spends most of her time analyzing and restoring art. But in preparation for the museum’s exhibition “Nordic Impressions: Art from Åland, Denmark, the Faroe Islands, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, 1821-2018,” she found herself, with two colleagues, taking a full afternoon and the following morning to install one of the works in the show.
Outi Pieski, Crossing Paths,
2014, Wood and threads, Courtesy of the artist
“Crossing Paths” is a 2014 wood and thread hanging sculpture by indigenous Finnish artist Outi Pieski. Pieski used traditional shawl-making techniques to create this work, combining hundreds of colored tassels tied to birch branches. Almost eight feet square, it depicts the mountainous landscape of the North.
According to Steele, “Crossing Paths” arrived at the museum in a long skinny box, about one foot by one foot by 12 feet. It contained a five-piece framework and 38 segments that Steele calls wings, which were packed and wrapped separately.
“The longer wings folded like an accordion, and there was the inevitable tangle. One person on a ladder would fit a wing on the frame, and the other two of us let it unfold. Then we spent the next half hour untangling. It is well made and was well labeled, it was easy in that respect, there was no guesswork. But it is fragile, and birch branches will snap easily.
“I think it’s gorgeous. The craftsmanship is amazing, the detail in it,” Steele says.
Steele notes that installing “Crossing Paths” was similar to restoring a painting, in that it was repetitive and almost therapeutic.
“We got into it, it was very Zen,” Steele chuckles. “Just staring at the artwork for about ten hours was calming.”
“Nordic Impressions: Art from Åland, Denmark, the Faroe Islands, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, 1821-2018,” is on view at The Phillips Collection through January 13, 2019. Visit phillipscollection.org or call 202-387-2151 for more information.
Ann Greer has covered culture in the DC region for The Washington Post, Capitol File magazine, and WAMU-FM, among others. She was the first online theater critic in the DC region, for AOL Digital City Washington.