microfader instrument

Microfadeometry is the technique of using a tiny spot of very intense light as a probe to measure color changes in individual objects of art that are sensitive to light exposure. A recently designed instrument called a microfading tester records reflectance spectra and color information continuously during a microfading test for a period of anywhere from a few minutes to several hours.

This component of the Museum Lighting Research project has the following goals:

  • establish standard methods for carrying out microfading testing and evaluations between different instruments;
  • create a robust pool of expertise in interpreting accelerated fading results and applying them to real conditions;
  • assist new users of instruments in building and operating their instruments;
  • create joint research efforts on difficult materials, such as glazes on paintings and synthetic polymers;
  • improve the basic methods of accelerated light aging.
microfading assessments in the lab

The GCI owns two benchtop microfaders that conduct research on light damage to cultural materials. In 2009 a third instrument was designed around maximum portability that combines a simplified power supply and electronic support systems. All three are used in the GCI's Museum Lighting Research project and support the exhibition and loan policies of both the Getty Research Institute and Getty Museum.

Other cultural institutions with their own instruments for microfadeometry include Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh; the Library of Congress and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC; the Museum of Modern Art in New York; the Canadian Conservation Institute in Ottawa; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and the Art Conservation Department at Buffalo State College in New York.

In addition, similar instruments of a slightly different design are in use at Tate in London, the Netherlands Institute of Cultural Heritage in Amsterdam, and the Centre de recherche sur la conservation des collections in Paris. However, there has been only limited collaboration among the users of these instruments, with no standardization and apparently no mechanisms to determine if they are all being run properly.

A meeting of selected users of this instrumentation was held in Amsterdam in spring 2009 to help form a coordinated body of microfadeometry users worldwide.

Last updated: July 2010