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Wednesday, May 15 • 5:00pm - 5:30pm
(Objects) An Unconventional Use of Conventional Materials: Conserving Barbara Neijna's Hand-Painted "Sunrest"

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It is established practice in the field of outdoor sculpture conservation to repaint outdoor sculptures when the surface paint fades, peels, cracks, or when a metal substrate exhibits corrosion. This is especially, but not exclusively, true when an artwork original was industrially produced. But what happens when the artist's hand is evident in the finish? This factor was confronted recently during the conservation of Sunrest, a geometric abstract painted sculpture by Miami based artist Barbara Neijna. When RLA Conservation was asked to conserve the work, we discovered quickly that conventional repainting methods were not going to work, because the artist had drawn graphite lines by hand in-between the top paint layer and a tinted lacquer clear coat. The faded sunset appearance of the clear coat was also spray painted by the artist, using a variety of dyes. Years of display outdoors in Miami's tropical climate, with extreme sunlight and in proximity to a salty bay, had caused extensive corrosion, darkening of the lacquer, and overall delamination of the bottom coat of paint from the steel and aluminum used for the sculpture and the base. The private client who owned the work wanted it "restored" back to its "original form". But because the graphite was sandwiched in-between layers, there was not a clear solution to doing this without involving the artist. Fortunately, Ms. Neijna, now in her 80’s, remains very particular about how her work is conserved. She happily agreed to work with the conservators to recreate the graphite lines and consult on the tinted lacquer samples that we copied in a more durable and reversible material. During the course of treatment, we learned that not only had the artist created the finishes, she had fabricated the substrate herself. This helped us determine what she originally used, and facilitated the decision-making that substituted contemporary industrial materials for the primers, paints, and lacquer topcoat. This paper will demonstrate and discuss how we undertook the work and how the artist participated in the process. We will describe how, over the course of six months and multiple mock-ups, we created an unconventional paint stack using commonly-used industrial and conservation-grade materials to recreate the brilliance of the artist's original methods. The methodologies for arriving at the new material choices will be described as well as the protocols that have been developed to address the problem in the future, when the artist is no longer available or able to participate in the treatment.

avatar for Rosa Lowinger-[Fellow]

Rosa Lowinger-[Fellow]

Managing Principal, RLA Conservation
Rosa Lowinger has been a conservator of outdoor sculpture and public art since 1984. A graduate of the Conservation Center at NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts and a Fellow of the American Institute for Conservation, she is the principal of Rosa Lowinger and Associates, a private sculpture... Read More →

Wednesday May 15, 2019 5:00pm - 5:30pm EDT
Salon B1, Uncas Ballroom
  Specialty Session, Objects