CONSERVING MODERN PAINTS
In the twenty-first century, the conservation of modern paints has emerged as a notable, even critical, subject of research. The great diversity in materials used in producing modern paints presents a significant challenge for those charged with caring for art created with these paints, as the paints’ sensitivity to aging, environmental conditions, and conservation treatments is governed by their particular properties.
The Getty Conservation Institute's engagement with conservation issues related to modern paints dates back to 2002 when the Institute joined with Tate in London and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, on an integrated collaborative effort to study modern paint materials identification, characterization, and cleaning. Since then, the GCI’s work in this area and the diligent efforts of many others in the field have expanded to address a broad range of conservation issues connected to modern paints.
In this edition of Conservation Perspectives, we offer an update on work that the GCI is undertaking with respect to modern paints. In the feature article, Bronwyn Ormsby, principal conservation scientist at Tate, and Tom Learner, head of Science at the GCI, examine progress in research related to cleaning approaches for modern acrylic and oil paints—progress that is giving conservators more information and options with respect to the cleaning of paintings.
The feature is followed by an article by Abigail Mack, John Escarsega, and Rachel Rivenc, who describe a GCI project that explores how paints formulated for military assets may help save outdoor painted sculptures in terms of preservation and appearance. In a third article, Pia Gottschaller delineates the Institute’s study of artworks from the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, on loan to the Getty as part of the Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA initiative; the research seeks to develop a comprehensive understanding of the materials and techniques used by artists working in the concrete and Neoconcrete veins in Latin America during the mid-twentieth century. In the fourth and final article, paint manufacturer Mark Golden provides insights into the concerns and considerations that those creating commercial paints must contend with, and he offers thoughts about greater collaboration between the conservation field and paint manufacturers.
In the roundtable discussion for this Conservation Perspectives, we have done something a little different by turning to three contemporary artists—Jason Martin, Ruth Pastine, and Analia Saban—whose innovative work with modern paints raises interesting and provocative conservation issues. Topics discussed include the effects they seek to achieve with paint, the qualities important to them in the paint material, and their feelings about the longevity and conservation of their work.
While the Institute’s research into the conservation issues of modern paints has continued for nearly a decade and a half, in recent years the considerable support we have received from the GCI Council has made possible more comprehensive explorations of some of the significant conservation questions surrounding these paints. For this, we are particularly grateful.
Timothy P. Whalen