Formally launched in October 2012 by GCI Science, the Art in L.A. project is dedicated to exploring the innovative materials and fabrication processes used by contemporary Los Angeles– based artists from the 1960s onward—and the implications these materials and processes have for the conservation of their work.

In-depth technical studies have been completed on the work of four groundbreaking artists: Larry Bell, Craig Kauffman, John McCracken, and Robert Irwin. Larry Bell used a process called vacuum deposition of thin films to coat plate glass with micron-thin films of material that altered the way light was absorbed, reflected, and transmitted by the glass. Craig Kauffman employed vacuum forming, a process usually reserved for commercial signs, to form acrylic sheets that were then reversepainted with a spray gun. John McCracken perfected a process of coating plywood with fiberglass and spray-painting it with many layers of automotive paints; he later replaced the automotive paints with poured polyester resin to achieve greater surface perfection. Robert Irwin used the finest colored mists to spray-paint discs of hammered aluminum or vacuum-formed plastics. He later developed, with his fabricator, methods to glue and polish his column of cast acrylic plastic.

These studies will be compiled in the book Made in Los Angeles: Materials, Process, and the Birth of West Coast Minimalism, to be published by Getty Publications in 2015. This volume will also explore the artists’ attitudes toward conserving their work.

Art in L.A. is also investigating repair methods and materials for transparent and translucent plastic objects, focusing especially on alternatives less invasive than extensive resanding and repolishing. This invasive method is preferred by some artists because it imparts a pristine surface to the object, but its disadvantage is the removal of original material (see “Less Is More”).

An important goal of the project is making relevant information on artists’ processes and intentions easily accessible. To this end, Art in L.A. has created Artist Dialogues, an ongoing series of short videos featuring artist discussions and demonstrations of materials and processes, as well as their thoughts on questions of longevity and conservation. A recent addition to the series is Peter Alexander: The Color of Light, in which the artist discusses his exploration of transparency and color in his polyester sculpture and relates how a new material, polyurethane, allowed him to rekindle his sculptural practice decades after the toxicity of polyester forced him to abandon sculpture. Previous videos in the series include: Larry Bell: Seeing Through Glass and De Wain Valentine: From Start to Finish, the Story of Gray Column. Art in L.A. is a part of the GCI’s Modern and Contemporary Art Research Initiative.