The Outdoor Sculpture research project stems from the recognition that outdoor sculpture is by its nature especially prone to damage and that a significant body of research on the treatment of this category of objects is needed. The project, a component of the Modern and Contemporary Art Research Initiative focuses on painted outdoor sculpture and protective coatings for unpainted metal substrates.


An important goal of the GCI's Modern and Contemporary Art Research Initiative has been to assess the needs of conservators working on outdoor painted sculpture. In June 2012, the GCI organized a focus meeting exploring issues and challenges posed by the conservation of twentieth-century and contemporary outdoor painted sculpture. Hosted by the Metropolitan Museum in New York, it gathered thirty invited participants from North America and Europe, representing the main groups involved in the conservation of outdoor painted sculpture: conservators, artists estates, foundations and studios, paint industry professionals, collection managers, and curators.

The meeting took stock of current interests, needs, and practices in the conservation of modern and contemporary outdoor painted sculpture. Conservation of these works is especially challenging, given the uncontrolled, and often harsh, environments to which works are constantly exposed; yet there is the expectation that their painted surfaces should remain pristine. In addition the paint layers hold a crucial protective role for the substrate. For these reasons, the treatment of these sculptures routinely involve major interventions that would be deemed drastic in other areas of conservation, such as full repainting of a work, often accompanied by stripping of previous paint layers. Such treatments pose many challenges when it comes to choosing the right type of paint and defining the correct surface appearance; they can also be extremely costly, which emphasizes the need to minimize the frequency of these conservation campaigns.

It became clear, throughout the meeting, that conservation practice in this area will be advanced most effectively through close cooperation of the different professions involved, in particular conservators, paint chemists, paint applicators, and the artists' estates/foundations/studios.


• Facilitate dialogue between professionals involved in the conservation of outdoor painted sculpture (conservators, paint chemists, paint industry, artists' estates, foundations, and studios, curators, and caretakers).
• Create guidelines for the production of paint swatches, for the documentation of paint surfaces (gloss, color and texture), and for the sharing of such information among those involved in the preservation of outdoor painted sculpture
• Collaborate with artists', estates, foundations, and studios (EFS) to develop guidelines on original paint surfaces related to their respective artists and best practices for production of EFS-approved coupons.
• Develop paints specifically formulated for the field, with improved durability and suitable working and optical properties in collaboration with the Army Research Laboratory and the paint industry, and in consultation with conservators and EFS
• Explore the possibility of carrying out local retouching to increase the duration between costly and invasive stripping and repainting campaigns
• Carry out a number of case studies on outdoor painted sculpture and sculpture parks to explore bridges between theory and practice

Over the long term the project seeks to build a repository of paint swatches documenting original paints and/or paints approved by EFS; to build bridges between industry and the conservation profession, and to disseminate the knowledge gained through courses and online publications.

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