GCI News
Project Updates
Modern and Contemporary Art Research Update
Conservation image

Research into the cleaning of acrylic paints is one of the main areas of the GCI's Modern Paints Project. An important aspect of this research has been to ensure that its findings are useful to conservators. To accomplish this, a series of case studies is being undertaken.

In July and August 2010, a large acrylic emulsion painting by Doug Wheeler, Untitled (1964), was treated in the GCI's science labs by private conservator Chris Stavroudis and Jennifer Hickey, a graduate student from the training program of the Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, supported with analysis from GCI scientists. The predominantly white painting was extremely dirty, and the artist had considered respraying the entire painting in an attempt to re-create its surface. As Wheeler commented during a visit to the GCI labs, "I want my work to feel like you're seeing particles of color in the air very subtly."

A variety of different aqueous cleaning systems were tested and examined. The types of cleaning formulations that performed best in trial tests carried out on acrylic emulsion paint mock-ups appeared to be well suited to cleaning the Wheeler painting. The formulation ultimately chosen for cleaning balanced the need for a workable speed of dirt removal with the ability of conservators to achieve an even, uniform paint surface after cleaning. (Read the Getty's blog, the Iris, for more about the painting's cleaning.)

Cleaning of Untitled (1964) was successfully completed, and the painting will be shown in Phenomenal: California Light and Space, opening in October 2011 at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. This exhibition is part of the Getty initiative Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945–1980. Pacific Standard Time will also feature the GCI-organized exhibition Start to Finish: De Wain Valentine's "Gray Column," which examines the materials and manufacturing processes used in the creation of this extraordinary work. It opens at the Getty Center in September 2011.

Also in conjunction with research into the cleaning of acrylic paints, the GCI is presenting the workshop "Cleaning of Acrylic Painted Surfaces" (CAPS), as part of the GCI's Science Series Workshops, a collaboration between the GCI Education and Science departments. The first of these CAPS workshops was held at the Getty Center in July 2009. A second workshop is planned for May 2011 in New York.

In other news, the GCI organized a threeday meeting in Brazil in December 2010 to discuss the current state and future requirements of research into the conservation of modern and contemporary art in Latin America. The gathering was the second in the GCI's Conservation Issues of Modern and Contemporary Art (CIMCA) series, and it follows a highly successful meeting held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in June 2008. CIMCA2 was organized with the School of Fine Arts, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais in Belo Horizonte, and the contemporary art organization Instituto Inhotim in nearby Brumadinho. The thirty invited participants—from a range of conservation and related backgrounds— came from countries across Latin America, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay. They were joined by representatives from Spain, the Netherlands, and the United States who are active in the region.

Discussion at CIMCA2 focused on the need for stronger networks, improved pooling of resources, and the building of better partnerships across the region. The need for a series of workshops and/or focused conferences on various aspects of contemporary art conservation was also stressed, as well as the desire to have key publications on the subject translated into Spanish and Portuguese. A full report of the December 2010 meeting will be available on the GCI website in fall 2011.

For more information on the GCI's Modern and Contemporary Art research, visit the GCI website.