Lady Gaga donation will fund restoration of Hearst Castle sculptures

$250,000 given by pop star when she filmed a music video will pay for the restoration of two statue groups

ktanner@thetribunenews.comMay 13, 2014 

The $250,000 donated in February by Lady Gaga and her family to the Hearst Castle Preservation Foundation will pay for restoration of two significant sculpture groups on the hilltop.

The projects will help protect two sets of iconic artwork from deterioration. One, a 13th-century sandstone Spanish sculpture of the Madonna and Child, is perched high above the massive main doors of La Casa Grande, near the center of the façade of the main building in the group of structures known collectively as Hearst Castle.

The other, an early 20th-century Carrara marble statuary group, depicts Venus being raised by mermen from the waters of the outdoor Neptune Pool, where Lady Gaga shot a music video in mid-February. The sculptures, created by Charles-Georges Cassou in Paris in the 1920s, are bracketed by a pair of broad staircases connecting the pool with the main houses.

Restoring the Madonna

The Madonna and Child sculpture group, created by an unknown artist, is 5 feet, 1 inch tall and 2 feet, 3 inches wide. The sculpture will be taken to conservator Erik Risser’s studio in Los Angeles, where he’s already working on a Donatello David sculpture from the fountain in front of the Castle’s Casa del Sol. Risser is also an associate conservator at the Getty Museum.

Restoration of the Madonna group will include cleaning and strengthening the entire sculpture, and injecting resin into visible cracks to make those areas more stable and slow deterioration that threatens portions of the artifact. The cost for the work is estimated at $48,000.

Raising Venus

The Venus statuary group includes three clusters of sculptures, each mounted on a concrete pedestal set on the pool bottom. The 12-foot, 7-inch-tall central piece shows Venus rising from a seashell, hoisted by two mermen, with three chubby male children (known as putti) at her feet. A winged Eros is perched at the front of the shell.

The separate groups on either side each feature a trio of frolicking mermaids. 

The conservator proposes raising the three groups above the water’s surface on pedestals increased in height by about 8 inches to get the marble sculptures’ bases up and out of the water. 

“This is the only way to feasibly guarantee their long-term stability,” Risser wrote in a report for the Castle foundation.

All of the sculptures will be removed, cleaned and treated to make them less susceptible to further dissolution and deterioration. The restoration work will be done in an elevated, recessed area not far from where the sculptures are currently mounted.

Risser described the statues’ condition as “fair.” It’s not known how long the work will take. It’s expected to cost about $200,000.

Gaga’s contributions

Members of the foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation and restoration of the historical monument’s 25,000 artifacts, made the decision on how to spend Lady Gaga and her family’s donation at a meeting May 2 at the Castle.

Gaga made the large donation in conjunction with filming a sizable chunk of her “G.U.Y.” video at the Castle and on a nearby section of the Hearst Ranch. The nearly 12-minute video, released March 22, has been viewed on YouTube more than 41 million times.

She also donated $25,000 to the Cambria Community Services District for water-supply studies and paid a $22,500 special event fee.

The pop diva and her staff are wrapping up production of a water conservation video, to be released soon, according to Remar Sutton of the foundation. Post-production is taking longer than expected.

Another video by Lady Gaga promoting Hearst Castle is on the drawing boards; location shots for it already have been filmed, Sutton said.

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