The Wages of Sin
Making Modern American Art Accessible to All
The Whitney Museum’s collection includes a unique sculpture by Mike Kelley called “The Wages of Sin”, one of the most famous pieces of American “found object” art. The sculpture was constructed entirely with candles dripped onto a tabletop, making it susceptible to damage when temperatures changed and during transportation.
LF Studios was tasked to find the best way to create an exact reproduction of the sculpture including all translucency, drips, and other inclusions cast into the candles.
The intent was to make a sculpture so precise that it was indistinguishable from the original when placed side by side.
Working with photographs and a low-res scan of the sculpture, we digitally sculpted all details of each individual candle and drip. To create a detailed record, we cataloged the translucencies and colors of each element within the sculpture.
Approaching this design in the same forensic method we bring to historical artifact recreations, we researched the best methods and materials for recreating each distinguishable feature. Extensive samples were created using different techniques so that we could dial in the perfect matches to meet expectations of The Whitney and their experts.
What We Built
The new sculpture was created primarily with urethane resins that would become stable and durable after fully curing. Some pieces required a series of casts to create – each layer adding new translucency and color effects to the appearance. The final week of work on the sculpture was completed while working with The Whitney’s Research Conservator directly next to Kelley’s original sculpture at the museum. Final color adjustments were applied in layers to match appearances while the positioning of each candle was finessed to verify accuracy.
While photographs of the sculpture are available, nothing can fully replicate the experience of walking around the piece and seeing the light reflect iridescently or shine through its translucent elements. The material selection, casting processes, and color finishing of the reproduction provides rich visual effects in the same way as the original. The creation of this piece has made “The Wages of Sin” more accessible to a broader audience.
Due to the historical significance, artistic and technical talent behind the sculpture, and the collaboration with The Whitney Conservation Team and The Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts, the recreation made by LF Studios has its own catalog number at The Whitney Museum.