The outdoor sculpture project at the Getty Conservation Institute

Rachel Rivenc, Julia Langenbacher, Catherine Defeyt, and Tom Learner


The Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) has embarked on a long-term research project into the conservation issues of contemporary outdoor sculpture, stemming from the recognition that outdoor sculpture is by its very nature prone to damage, often requires treatments that in other areas of conservation would be considered extreme, and that a significant body of research on this category of objects is needed. The initial phase of this project focuses on painted outdoor sculpture. Five different research strands were designed based on the outcomes of a focus meeting organized in June 2012 by the GCI, aiming at exploring issues posed by the conservation of twentieth-century and contemporary outdoor painted sculpture, and discussing possible solutions and areas of research. The meeting gathered thirty participants from the main groups involved in the conservation of outdoor painted sculpture: conservators, artists estates, foundations and studios, paint industry professionals, collection managers, and curators. One of the central goals of the project is to build bridges between industry and the conservation profession. The project activities include:

  • Documenting Original Painted Surfaces. It is fairly common for outdoor painted sculpture to be entirely repainted, and frequently stripped if they exhibit deteriorated paint layers. This component of the project aims at defining protocols for the documentation of painted surfaces that can be easily adopted by conservators — including how to prepare coupons, photograph them, and measure color and gloss in the easiest yet most reproducible ways.
  • Analyzing and Understanding Paint Composition. Industrial paints have very complex composition. Part of the project consists of developing analytical protocols specifically adapted to paints used for outdoor painted sculptures and building analytical libraries to more accurately identify them.
  • Developing New Paint Systems. The requirements for paints used in outdoor painted sculpture conservation are complex: they need to replicate the original artist materials, while being as durable as possible in outdoor environments and accessible in terms of cost. The Army Research Laboratory (ARL) has been working to investigate new paint formulations suitable for conservation.and the GCI has partnered with the ARL and Abigail Mack Art Conservation to test these new paints and make them available to conservators.
  • Collaborating with Artists’ Estates, Foundations, and Studios. The project team is collaborating with artists’, estates, foundations, and studios (EFS) to discuss how these organizations can provide conservation professionals with guidelines for repainting outdoor sculpture, focusing on the works’ visual properties—color, gloss, and texture—and how best to replicate these using available paint resources.
  • Case Studies: The project includes a number of case studies – in the past two years the GCI has partnered with the University Art Museum at California State University, Long Beach to treat selected sculptures from the outdoor sculpture collection at CSULB, as well as to organize the conference: FAR-SITED: Creating and Conserving Art in Public Places in October 2015. Other potential case studies are being explored in collaboration with the Storm King Art Center. The presentation will give an overview of the project and present results and achievements to date.
2016 | Montreal | Volume 23