Eva Hesse Addendum: Exploring materiality and emerging technologies

Tamar Maor, Dr. Angelica Bartoletti, and Dr. Bronwyn Ormsby


The third case study for the NANORESTART research project at Tate focuses on Eva Hesse, Addendum (1967), a sculpture made of rope and papier mâché. The project aims to address cleaning challenges by exploring the use of newly developed gels synthesized using nanotechnology. The first phase focused on material characterisation and analysis in combination with historical research to help understand the context of the materials Hesse used for this sculpture. Analysis using FTIR, EDX, microscopy, pyrolysis GCMS, and UV fluorescence confirmed the presence of a pEA/MMA acrylic paint throughout, with a transparent PVAc coating. The painted cotton ropes have an additional transparent pnBA/MMA coating which has degraded and yellowed. The surface of the entire sculpture has embedded surface dirt with particular soiling of the rope ends in contact with the gallery floor during display.

Research into Hesse’s use of materials with a focus on her exploration of new synthetic materials at the time she was making Addendum, will help to determine if the secondary coating on the ropes was artist applied or applied subsequent to acquisition. In 1967 Hesse attended lectures such as Polymers and Acrylic Materials as part of a wider series on Experiments in Art and Technologies. These lectures significantly influenced her practice both in terms of her material choice but also her subject matter. Although pnBA/MMA was introduced commercially in 1967, given Hesse’s exploration of materiality it is possible she may have chosen to use this new latex-type material. The next phase was to undertake extensive cleaning tests on papier mâché and rope mock-up samples that were created using contemporary equivalents of the same materials used in Addendum. The mock-ups were also artificially soiled and aged. The surface cleaning options evaluated explored a range of commonly-used cleaning solutions, micro-emulsions, and various gel systems.

These included the polyvinyl alcohol-based gels developed through the NANORESTART project, including a modified gel similar to NANORESTORE Gel® Peggy 5, tailored by CSGI specifically for this case study. Once the most appropriate strategy was fully evaluated, the sculpture underwent an extensively documented conservation treatment, where key decisions were made in conjunction with Tate’s curatorial team and relevant stakeholders. This practice-based research included a collaboration of conservators, conservation and academic scientists and art historians/curators, where the balance of information gathered aimed not only to result in the successful treatment of this significant sculpture, but to contribute to our knowledge of Hesse’s work and the refinement of new technologies which can aid in the conservation treatment of complex modern and contemporary works of art.

The Nanorestart project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 646063.

Tamar Maor, Tate, London; Angelica Bartoletti, Tate, London; Nicole Bonelli, Department of Chemistry and CSGI, University of Florence; David Chelazzi, Department of Chemistry and CSGI, University of Florence; Piero Baglioni, Department of Chemistry and CSGI, University of Florence; Bronwyn Ormsby, Tate, London.

2018 | Houston | Volume 25