By Corey Smith Riley and Viviana Dominguez
The Louise Nevelson sculpture-conservation project underway in the Caryatid Conservation Services, Inc., studio in Miami has been an enjoyable and refreshing collaboration between two different areas of conservation: objects and paintings conservation. Art conservation is a multi-disciplinary field that includes different aspects of art, art history and science. Due to the large variety of materials that the field needs to address, professionals specialize in different disciplines, such as paintings, paper, objects, photography, etc.
At Caryatid Conservation, Stephanie Hornbeck and Corey Smith Riley focus on objects conservation. This includes any three-dimensional artwork and can run the gamut from African-beaded artifacts to monumental-outdoor sculptures, to the painted-wooden sculptures of Louise Nevelson. Since the main-condition issue on the Pérez Art Museum Miami’s (formerly the Miami Art Museum, MAM) Nevelson sculptures is the flaking-paint layer, we decided it would be best to collaborate with paintings conservators to decide upon the treatment approach and carry out the treatment itself. Paintings conservator Rustin Levenson, a longtime consultant to MAM, is developing treatment protocol with Stephanie. Paintings conservator Viviana Dominguez will assist with execution of the treatment.
Early collaboration and communication helped us to combine materials and techniques from objects conservation and paintings conservation to create the best possible treatment protocol for the Nevelson sculptures. (See Levenson’s blog in this series.) Similarities in conservation ethics and practices between paintings and objects conservation dictate that all of the materials tested and used will follow the conservation ethical requirements of reversibility and long-term stability. The adhesive chosen for this treatment, BEVA D8, is an aqueous, non-ionic dispersion of emulsified ethylene vinyl acetate. This consolidant/adhesive, produced by Gustav Burger, is largely used in paintings conservation and has been proven to have great properties for the re-attachment of the acrylic-based flaking paint on our sculpture. We were thrilled to learn about the conservation material BEVA D8 and will be adding it to our arsenal of object-conservation treatment materials for the future.
We are currently in the midst of scores of hours of conservation treatment on both of the Nevelson sculptures in the studio. We are consolidating the flaking paint layer by feeding a thinned BEVA D8 dispersion into the cracks and lifted areas of paint. The adhesive is applied with a very thin brush that allows us to wick behind the paint layer. After the adhesive is repeatedly applied to the cracks and behind lifting paint chips, it is allowed to set slightly. Then the paint layer is relaxed with heat, by means of a hot-tacking tool, and pressed against the wooden substrate. We were delighted to experience how flexible the aged-paint layer remains under heated pressure; it was not possible to predict how the paint would behave before our testing started. After the paint is set down with heat, all traces of adhesive on the surface must be cleaned off immediately with warm water on a cotton swab. It is important not to get excess adhesive onto the surface of the paint, because although it is soluble in water for the first 24 hours, the clean-up of BEVA D8 after that it is much more difficult. Once all of the paint on the surface is stabilized and set down, further steps in the treatment will include filling areas of paint loss and repairing areas of fill and over-paint from previous treatment interventions that have not aged well.
Even though consideration is dedicated to testing and selecting materials prior to treatment, large works, such as the Nevelson sculptures, may present different challenges in different areas. Long-term directional exposure from a fixed placement may cause some sides of a three-dimensional work to age differently than others. The artist may have changed the type of paint or her application technique, or previous repairs and treatments may be present. Such variations have an impact on the treatment because the adhesive selected may react differently in different locations. A critical eye and constant thinking are required to discern these subtle differences to modify the treatment and change dilutions – or even tools, accordingly – during the course of the treatment. So, the conservator must apply a judicious approach to execution of the treatment protocol.
This weekly blog will run on Wednesdays this summer and feature guest bloggers from the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), Caryatid Conservation Services, Inc., The M Network and ARTEX Fine Art Services. Next week, the series will look at researching the artist’s methods and the provenance of the sculptures with a blog by Eugenia Incer.
Corey Smith Riley is an objects conservator for Caryatid Conservation Services, Inc., in Miami.
Viviana Dominguez is a mural and paintings conservator. She specializes in painted finishes on two-dimensional and three-dimensional works of art.
For questions or comments regarding this blog, please leave a comment below, or directly contact the editor, Jillian Ambroz, at firstname.lastname@example.org.