Developing New Paint Systems

The requirements for paints used in outdoor painted sculpture conservation are complex: they need to replicate the original artist materials in terms of gloss, color, and texture, while being as durable as possible in outdoor environments and accessible in terms of cost.

Although good paints with excellent performance characteristics are commercially available, they may not match all the requirements necessary for conservation treatment. For example, a suitable product line might be identified but then prove difficult in matching needed gloss and color for the sculpture. Durability is also an elusive concept as it is viewed on different scales by the paint industry and by conservators who would like to see a longer time frame between costly treatments. To address these issues the GCI has partnered with the Army Research Laboratory (ARL), which has been working to investigate new paint formulations suitable for conservation—the project builds off of previous work on matte black paints for Calder carried out by the ARL in collaboration with the National Gallery, Washington DC.

The first step of the GCI-ARL collaboration is the development of a suite of colors suitable for the repainting of Alexander Calder sculptures and approved by the Calder foundation for this purpose. Joining in GCI and ARL in this work is independent conservator Abigail Mack, who works extensively with Calder's outdoor sculptures, and Niles Protective Coatings, the company manufacturing the paints formulated by the army.

In addition to the extensive artificial aging carried out at the ARL to test these paints, the GCI will carry out a comprehensive monitoring campaign on the sculptures repainted with these paints to obtain "real life" data. Based on this work, the project partners will then develop other color sets suitable for use on the work of other artists.

Banner image: View of the South Fields, Storm King Art Center with works by Mark di Suvero: Pyramidion 1987/1998; Beethoven's Quartet, 2003, For Chris, 1991 lent by the artist and Spacetime C.C., New York. Mon Père, Mon Père, 1973-75; Mother Peace, 1969-1970; and; Jambalaya, 2002-2006, Gift of the Ralph E. Ogden Foundation, Inc., collection of Storm King Art Center, Mountainville, New York. Art: © Mark di Suvero. Photo: Jerry L. Thompson, reproduced courtesy the artist and Storm King Art Center; © Storm King Art Center, Mountainville, New York.

Page updated: January 2015