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Surface Treatment Strategies for Outdoor Painted Sculpture
Conservation image

The inaugural Surface Treatment Strategies for Outdoor Painted Sculpture workshop was held at the Getty Center February 19–23, 2018. Over five days, eighteen participants from Europe, Asia, and North America attended hands-on practical sessions, lectures, and discussions; they also made site visits to sculpture parks and to an industrial paint applicator.

Since outdoor painted sculptures are exposed to harsh environments, their paint coatings are prone to rapid and extreme deterioration. The scale and outdoor location of these objects frequently necessitate the use of industrial methods and materials to treat them—yet as works of art, the conservation of these sculptures must be approached with thoughtfulness, caution, and sensitivity to aesthetics.

Conservators, even those specializing in sculpture, modern and contemporary art, or both, often lack knowledge of the paint industry and therefore have to learn on the job about the durability of paint systems, their application properties, and the surface preparation required. This deficiency can sometimes lead to costly mistakes. The workshop aimed to address this knowledge gap and to provide conservators with a palette of conceptual and practical tools to assess and respond to a variety of situations.

Among the topics covered during the workshop were: the basics of surface preparation and coatings technology; the pros, cons, and logistics of working on-site versus working at an industrial paint applicator; different methods of mitigating coatings defects; and local treatment to prolong intervals between costly full-scale repainting treatments.

The 2018 workshop was a pilot for future courses on outdoor painted sculpture. All of the 2018 participants had prior experience with outdoor painted sculpture and were chosen for their ability to give feedback on the format and content of the course, which will be used to inform the next workshop, in 2019.

The Surface Treatment Strategies for Outdoor Painted Sculpture workshop grew out of the Outdoor Sculpture project, which is part of the GCI’s Modern and Contemporary Art Research Initiative.