Where east meets west: The conservation of a modern, large-scale, black lacquer sculpture exhibited in a public space

Ingrid A. Neuman and James S. Martin


A non-representational, black lacquer sculpture by Gyora Novak, entitled Links, 1965, was examined and treated during the summer and fall of 1995. Fabricated in the 1960s, this sculpture has been exhibited in a public, non-climate-controlled space for twenty years. Minimal maintenance of the sculpture has been performed during this time and although its structural condition appeared sound, its superficial condition was poor: scratches, gouges and losses marred the originally pristine and highly reflective surface.

Technical analysis revealed the materials and method of fabrication, and identified the black finish as urushi, a traditional Asian lacquer. As the artist was known to be living, attempts were made to contact him in order to discuss aspects of the sculpture’s fabrication and the artist’s preference for its display configuration. Because of the future exhibition plan for the sculpture, non-traditional materials and methods were used for treatment of the lacquer surface. Proprietary materials were ultimately utilized because of their effectiveness, as well as time and budget constraints and the environment to which the object would be exposed. Since consultation with the manufacturers of the materials used in the treatment and the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) were non-conclusive, materials analysis was performed in-house in order to complete thorough documentation of the conservation treatment and to aid in determining the applicability of these proprietary materials for future conservation projects.

This presentation will focus on issues relating to the conservators’ rationale and choice of conservation materials based on the scale, the kinetic nature and the future exhibition configuration and site of the sculpture.

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1996 | Norfolk | Volume 4