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5. General Session [clear filter]
Friday, June 1

2:00pm MDT

(Problematic Materials) Modern Materials: Not Our Fault, But Our Problem. Reflections on the Development of Conservation Treatments in Private Practice
The conservation of contemporary art, in private practice in New York City, operates within a vibrant and fast-paced art market. Contemporary Conservation Ltd. is daily challenged to strike a balance between the artist’s intent, the unavoidable physical changes that materials undergo, and the satisfaction of our clients. Artworks entering the studio cannot be treated as if they exist in a vacuum. The decision-making process is guided by all parties involved, which can include: artists, galleries, auction houses, private collectors, insurance agencies, and appraisers. Treatment solutions need to be developed quickly with everyone’s consent, while adhering to a framework of practices of conservation ethics. Works made of modern materials - especially plastics with industrially finished surfaces - are deceivingly considered robust and unbreakable. An artwork made of unstable material can be subject to rapid unintentional deterioration, while lack of material knowledge may damage the work during handling and transportation. Restoring industrially finished surfaces is often challenging and requires extensive testing and research. However, conservators in private practice lack the resources available to museums, dedicated time and an allocated budget for research. Therefore, a more treatment-based approach is needed and solutions are often achieved by trial and error. These two case studies on the conservation of artworks made of plastics illustrate this decision-making process, arising material challenges and the limits of physical treatment within private practice. Since the 1970s the prolific John McCracken (1934-2011) created highly polished polyester columns and planks. The pristine surfaces of these sculptures scratch easily, resulting in an overall dull appearance, which diminishes the experience of the artwork and compromises its authenticity. Over six years 20 works have come into the studio demanding a systematic approach - the refinement of a polishing technique that allowed treating large surfaces in an adequate time frame. During the course of several months, research was carried out and an exhaustive list of materials and techniques were tested until a well-balanced result was achieved. Between 2004 and 2012, Seth Price (b. 1973), a multi-disciplinary artist, created wall reliefs made of thermoformed high-impact polystyrene (HIPS) sheets. Due to the inherent brittleness of polystyrene and the tension induced during the production process, a number of these panels have developed cracks, which are not only visually disturbing but also structurally weaken the artwork. An immediate stabilization method for the cracks was necessary to prevent further exacerbation before it reaches a condition beyond recovery. Further research and testing is currently being carried out in order to assess and optimize the method. Meanwhile the degradation of the polystyrene will unavoidably progress and the shelf life of these artworks will always remain in question. Much can be gained by comparing the approach these two specific sets of problems present. With the current high turnover rate in the contemporary art market, it is becoming increasingly important to take the time to reflect on the quality of our treatments, their longevity, reversibility and how these actions preserve the artists’ or artworks’ legacy.

avatar for Giuliana Moretto

Giuliana Moretto

Associate Conservator, Contemporary Conservation Ltd
As Associate Conservator at Contemporary Conservation Ltd. since 2009, Giuliana focuses on the conservation of objects and paintings in non-traditional materials – including bubble gum, chocolate and plastics – and innovative artistic techniques, such as Inkjet printing, vacuum-formed... Read More →
avatar for Delia Müller Wüsten

Delia Müller Wüsten

Associate Conservator, Contemporary Conservation Ltd.
Delia Müller-Wüsten has been an Associate Conservator at Contemporary Conservation Ltd. since 2012. She specializes in the conservation of artworks made of synthetic materials such as latex and synthetic resins, and has expertise on highly-polished surfaces from artists such as... Read More →

Friday June 1, 2018 2:00pm - 2:30pm MDT
Texas Ballroom C Marriott Marquis Houston

2:30pm MDT

(Problematic Materials) Managing Expectations in Scrapbook Conservation Approaches
Historic scrapbooks are one of the most problematic formats found in many library, archive, and museum collections due to their complicated and deterioration-prone structures. Unfortunately, they are also one of the formats of greatest interest to historians and genealogists, among others. These often bedraggled books offer a wonderful and unique glimpse into history through the eyes of the individual or group who created them. Although some scrapbooks contain only duplicate printed information, such as newspaper clippings of current events on particular topics or collectable printed cards or illustrations, others contain a wide variety of materials such as photographs, postcards, letters, documents, and realia. In either case, however, scrapbooks can serve as a valuable resource for researchers. Unfortunately, due to the nature of their construction, their previous use, and the deterioration of their contents, many historic scrapbooks are in very poor condition and present a myriad of preservation challenges. These challenges range from binding deterioration and dangerously brittle paper to the often dramatic deterioration of their contents.

At the University of Illinois Library we hold a large number of such historic scrapbooks (nearly 1,000) broadly held in the collections of our University Archives, Student Life and Culture Archives, or Sousa Archives and Center for American Music. Condition, curatorial value, and use of these materials vary greatly, as do expectations from our archivists and curators on what “conservation treatment” may mean when items are brought to the conservation lab. Over the last ten years, treatments have ranged from over 100 hours per item for various full treatment approaches (including maintaining and preserving the original format, or completely removing items from their scrapbook format) to simple boxing, and everything in between. This variability in approaches has been particularly heightened recently by the planning for an upcoming exhibition and digitization project focusing on a single historical scrapbook from our Rare Book and Manuscript Library as well as several incoming requests to remove items from scrapbooks to be permanently housed separately from their original scrapbook. In an attempt to better manage curatorial expectations on what scrapbook treatment may involve and better articulate the benefits and drawbacks of more invasive conservation and/or disbinding, our conservation staff have been developing a more strategized and, perhaps, standardized approach to the conservation treatment of historic scrapbooks. This presentation will give an overview of some of our previous scrapbook treatment approaches, analyze the successes and failures of those treatments, and how we propose to better streamline our treatments as well as to better communicate with curators to arrive at agreed upon treatment approaches that meet their collections and users needs.

avatar for Jennifer Hain Teper-[Fellow]

Jennifer Hain Teper-[Fellow]

Head of Preservation, University of Illinois Library
Jennifer Hain Teper serves as the Velde Preservation Librarian at the University of Illinois Libraries overseeing conservation, collections care, digital preservation, and digitization services throughout the library system. Before her current position began in 2009, she served as... Read More →

Friday June 1, 2018 2:30pm - 3:00pm MDT
Texas Ballroom C Marriott Marquis Houston

3:00pm MDT

(Problematic Materials) The painting’s life, silk or paper: materials and methods for lining a 15th-century Chinese handscroll at the Cleveland Museum of Art
Asian scroll paintings are executed on delicate and fragile materials such as silk. Many of the aging scrolls already show different degrees of natural deterioration. For treating these scrolls, remounting and replacing the first lining is a crucial step to stabilizing the damages. The first lining is also called Life paper, indicating that it is crucial to the life of a painting. Paintings on silk with the extensive loss to the silk support have been found lined overall with a sheet of silk to compensate/back-fill the losses. This is considered a “lazy” way to disguise losses as opposed to the method of infilling the losses individually with silk trimmed to the same shapes as the losses. Silk bonds much better to paper than it does to another layer of silk; therefore, lining a painting on silk with a whole sheet of silk requires thicker and stronger paste to bind two sheets of silk well. If two sheets of silk are not well adhered they will delaminate more readily with rolling and unrolling; these delaminations can eventually lead to losses to the painting silk. Is it true that lining with silk is a “lazy” way? Are there other reasons why an overall silk lining may be preferable in terms of the scroll’s context or the condition? Some Japanese Buddhist paintings are lined with a whole sheet of silk simply because silk is expensive and considered more luxurious and thus, is the best material to show proper reverence to the deity or deities represented in the painting. At the CMA, a silk painting in a handscroll format had been treated in the past with an overall silk lining. This handscroll was recently remounted due to the delamination between the primary and lining silks. When the lining silk of this handscroll was taken off, extensive tiny losses and spider web-like creases were revealed with transmitted light. Here lies the crux of this discussion: if the losses are compensated using an overall silk lining, it might cause the same problem of delamination. If lined with sheets of paper, the losses then have to be infilled with trimmed silk, and with extensive losses, this is extremely time-consuming. Most of the losses are the size of pencil dots, so infilling with the same size of trimmed silk is impractical: there is not enough material (surface area) to paste down and the infills would just fall off due to poor adhesion. Furthermore, trimming the infill silk to the exact shapes of the losses and then reinforcing the inlaid perimeter would result in too many overlapping reinforcement strips. Finally, a painting will shrink or expand differently than the fills while drying, resulting in gaps around losses; with numerous tiny infills, all of the resulting gaps present a concern. In this presentation, the advantages and disadvantage of lining with silk or with paper for Asian silk paintings are compared and discussed. The filling and lining materials and methods for a 15th-century handscroll at the CMA are introduced.

avatar for Yi-Hsia Hsiao

Yi-Hsia Hsiao

Conservator, Cleveland Museum of Art
Yi-Hsia is an associate conservator working on Chinese paintings, and Thangka paintings in the Asian painting conservation studio, Conservation Department, in the Cleveland Museum of Art since 2014. Before settled down in Cleveland, she was an Andrew W. Mellon fellow for Chinese paintings... Read More →

Friday June 1, 2018 3:00pm - 3:30pm MDT
Texas Ballroom C Marriott Marquis Houston

4:00pm MDT

(Problematic Materials) Investigation of Cellulose Nitrate Motion Picture Film Chemical Decomposition & Associated Fire Risk
Is deteriorated cellulose nitrate film relatively inert, "comparable to the flammability of paper," as ISO standards state, or is it shock sensitive, presumably more like an explosive, as the Kodak MSDS for cellulose nitrate film tells us? Disparities about cellulose nitrate film abound in the literature which then pose challenges for the conservator and collections care professional in making choices for these materials. Strict government regulations about storage, handling and transportation -- based on conflicting information in the literature -- compound the problem. The purpose of the Wisconsin Nitrate Film Project was to understand the chemical processes by which cellulose nitrate decomposes and to ascertain whether deteriorated nitrate film stock is more dangerous than nitrate stock in good condition. The project sought to establish the validity of the five-stage classification model for cellulose nitrate degradation, to understand the friction sensitivity of cellulose nitrate "brown powder," to closely investigate the role that relative humidity plays in degradation pathways and to engage with the regulatory community which establishes handling and storage requirements for cellulose nitrate. This presentation describes the results of three avenues of research undertaken during this NEH funded project: Chemical and physical testing on samples of heritage nitrate film (still and motion picture); evidence gathered through oral histories, a survey of archives, and the creation of an extensive annotated bibliography of cellulose nitrate related literature; and it describes our interactions with the National Fire Protection Association. Future research and advocacy needs are defined.

avatar for Kathleen Mullen

Kathleen Mullen

Preservation Coordinator, Wisconsin Historical Society
Kathleen Mullen is the Preservation Coordinator for the Wisconsin Historical Society, Division of Library, Archives and Museum Collections, a position she has held since 2010. She oversees book, paper and objects conservation in that position, as well as audio-visual preservation... Read More →

avatar for Heather Heckman

Heather Heckman

Director, Moving Image Research Collections at the University of South Carolina
Heather has a PhD in Communication Arts at UW, where she also earned MAs in Library and Information Studies and Communication Arts. Her publications include "Burn After Viewing, or, Fire in the Vaults: Nitrate Decomposition and Combustibility" (The American Archivist, Winter 2010... Read More →
avatar for Dr. Mahesh Mahanthappa

Dr. Mahesh Mahanthappa

Professor, Chemical Engineering and Material Science, University of Minnesota
A native of Boulder, Colorado, Mahesh K. Mahanthappa received his B.A. in Chemistry and Mathematics at the University of Colorado in 1997, while performing undergraduate research with Professor Gordon T. Yee. As a Hertz Fellow at Stanford University, Mahesh studied the mechanisms... Read More →

Friday June 1, 2018 4:00pm - 4:30pm MDT
Texas Ballroom C Marriott Marquis Houston

4:30pm MDT

(Problematic Materials) The Element of Surprise: contending with historic lead fills on an outdoor bronze Mercury
Lead has been used for centuries as a filling agent for a wide variety of materials ranging from metals, to ceramics, and even teeth. It’s flexibility, low melting point, and ability to form alloys with a variety of common metals made it an ideal conservation material before the health hazards of lead were well known. As a result, lead fills can be found in a large number of museum artifacts. Despite the prevalence of historic lead fills in collections, there is little published information on how to contend with historic lead fills in modern object conservation treatments. Of particular interest for the authors is the interaction of more current conservation fill materials with lead repairs. This presentation will focus on the challenges encountered in working with in-situ lead fills, as demonstrated through the case study of an outdoor, cast bronze sculpture of Mercury currently on display at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, CA. With this object, the authors not only had to contend with damage to the bronze caused by leaching lead corrosion, but also the unforeseen complications involved in attempting to apply new, modern fill materials on top of the preserved historic fills. Health and safety concerns were also a consideration when developing the treatment plan, as the complete removal of the lead was not an option due to lack of disposal facilities and suitable protective equipment. In the end, a treatment methodology was developed through trial and error that, while using somewhat unorthodox materials for museum object conservation, resulted in a treatment that preserved the original fills, stabilized the sculpture for outdoor display, and vastly improved the aesthetic appearance of the bronze.

avatar for Sarah Giffin

Sarah Giffin

Assistant Conservator, RLA Conservation
Sarah Giffin is an assistant objects conservator for the Los Angeles studio of RLA Conservation. She graduated with an MA and an MSc in Conservation for Archaeology and Museums from University College London in 2016. Prior to working at RLA she worked for the National Park Service... Read More →

avatar for Humberto del Rio

Humberto del Rio

Chief conservation Technician, RLA Conservation of Art + Architecture
Humberto del Rio holds a B.S. in Chemistry from Instituto Politécnico de Química “Mártires de Girón” in Havana, Cuba, with a specialization in Industrial Chemistry. Prior to joining RLA Humberto worked for Conservation Solutions, Inc. as a stone technician and served as a... Read More →
avatar for Christina Varvi-[PA]

Christina Varvi-[PA]

Senior Conservator, RLA Conservation, Inc.
Christina Varvi, Senior Conservator and Professional Associate of the AIC, holds an M.S. in Historic Preservation with a concentration in Materials Conservation from Columbia University. A specialist in architectural and public art conservation, Christina is RLA’s lead professional... Read More →

Friday June 1, 2018 4:30pm - 5:00pm MDT
Texas Ballroom C Marriott Marquis Houston
  5. General Session, Problematic Materials

5:00pm MDT

(Problematic Materials) The Day Day-Glo loses its Glo(w): An Interdisciplinary Approach in Conserving Artworks Containing Daylight Fluorescent Paints
Since the 1960s, American artists like Frank Stella (1936°), Richard Bowman (1918-2001), Herbert Aach (1923-1985), James Rosenquist (1933-2017) and Andy Warhol (1928-1987), started to incorporate Day-Glo (daylight fluorescent) paints in their artworks. These luminescent, synthetic, modern paints, became popular because they revealed a new dimension in color that resulted in unseen visual experiences, like illusory color depth, optical vibration and new contrast effects. Unfortunately, there is a downside to the use of fluorescent paints, in that they age much faster than conventional colors and digitalising their luminescent effect isn’t possible up till now. Most colors in artworks appear through absorption and reflection of inorganic pigments. Fluorescent pigments, on the contrary, consist in a grounded substance based on an organic dye-resin-mixture. This kind of pigment absorbs energy of the short-wavelength range of the light spectrum and reemits this energy over a narrow range of longer-wavelength light. The resin matrix of fluorescent pigments is very fragile and already after a few years, due to exposure to (ultraviolet)light, the fluorescent color gradually starts to lose its intensity and saturation. For this presentation, I’ll start by briefly discussing my art historical research, in which I’ll compare three different uses of fluorescent colors in paintings of Frank Stella, Richard Bowman and Herbert Aach. After interviewing Stella, I found out that he not only used them for their intensity and self-referential quality, but also for their transparency. These material-qualities perfectly fitted his ‘paintings as object’-concept. Bowman was among the very first artists who used them (since 1950) and saw the fact that these paints emit real light from the canvas as an extension of the painted light effects in works of the (post-)impressionists. Aach was an artist and color engineer who made his own fluorescent paints. Beside the fact that his paintings reveal unseen fluorescent colors, he also developed a detailed study of their visual effects in his writings. While discussing this selection of artworks, both the (unique) visual effects and their irreversible loss of intensity due to aging, will be addressed. In the second part, I’ll draw attention to the fact that it is impossible to digitalise or photograph the visual effects of a fluorescent artwork. A photo will only capture a high-key colored version without the fluorescent-effects. As the degradation is inevitable and the problem of reproduction remains, it is necessary to create an additional fine-grained taxonomy of each artwork, which enables and preserves a correct reading of the fluorescent works. To conclude this presentation, I will give an example of such a taxonomy, based on recent interdisciplinary research on four of Stella’s Irregular Polygons paintings, consisting in art historical methods, perceptual psychology and data gained from material-technical research. As a solution, readings resulting from such a taxonomy will serve as ‘visual memory’ for artworks that eventually become milky-coloured ‘ruins’, devoid of their original meaning.

avatar for Stefanie De Winter

Stefanie De Winter

PhD student, University of Leuven
Stefanie De Winter studied conservation of paintings at the Royal Academy of Antwerp, where she focused on conservation problems related to fluorescent paint layers. After a stint as a conservator in NYC, where she worked on contemporary American paintings (mostly Frank Stella), she... Read More →

Friday June 1, 2018 5:00pm - 5:30pm MDT
Texas Ballroom C Marriott Marquis Houston