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Thursday, May 30 • 4:00pm - 4:30pm
(Objects) Rethinking the Monumental: A Creative Approach to the Preservation of a Landmark Tony Smith Outdoor Sculpture

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This presentation describes the collaborative planning process for treatment of Tony Smith’s Gracehoper, a monumental painted-steel outdoor sculpture at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Gracehoper created a particular challenge for conservators because of its large size, the strict aesthetic parameters for its surface appearance, and ongoing changes in the coatings industry. The physical and aesthetic criteria that shaped the treatment plan for this remarkably complicated object will be examined, as well as the shared decision-making process that involved a host of stakeholders, including conservators, a curator, the artist’s estate, a paint specialist, private funders, and the public.

Although initial efforts focused on a quest for the perfect paint, it was only when all the components of the project—including size, accessibility, paint technology, surface aesthetics, and cost—were weighed that a clear path for treatment revealed itself and an effective plan developed. Project delays allowed the conservators time to reexamine an initial proposal to repaint the sculpture by spray application, on site, with the necessary containment structure. Since the enormous tent needed for containment proved to be prohibitively expensive and an acceptable surface by spray application of the high-performance paint would be difficult to achieve outdoors, the conservators reconsidered their plan. In the 1970s, the artist/fabricator team had installed and coated the sculpture on site with roller-applied industrial paints to the artist’s satisfaction. Through consultation with the Tony Smith Estate, paint specialists, and a review of museum documentation, the conservators and curator explored replicating the artist’s original application methods while using today’s high-performance exterior coatings. The potential benefits were many, including easier application, easier local treatment of damaged surfaces in the future, and lower costs.

Careful and cooperative consideration of all the variables affecting the treatment led the project team to explore a variety of options. Together, they successfully developed a plan for treatment that is cost-effective, durable, and honors the artist’s original aesthetic requirements.

avatar for Abigail Mack

Abigail Mack

Object Conservator, Mack Art Conservation LLC
Abigail Mack’s art conservation practice, located in New York’s Hudson Valley, focuses on modern and contemporary art with specific interest in large scale and monumental sculpture. Ms. Mack holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree and a Master’s Degree in Art Conservation from State University of New York College at Buffalo. One of her specific interests is striking a balance between the preservation of the physical object and the artists... Read More →

John Steele

Conservator of Sculpture and Decorative Arts, Detroit Institute of Arts
John Steele is Conservator of Sculpture and Decorative Arts at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), where he has worked since 1990. His responsibilities include all aspects of preservation and treatment of three-dimensional works spanning all cultures and time periods in the museum’s encyclopedic collection. He received his Bachelor of Arts from Kalamazoo College and a Master of Arts from the State University College at Buffalo. His... Read More →

Thursday May 30, 2013 4:00pm - 4:30pm
JW Marriott Grand Ballroom 3 & 4 19 S West St Indianapolis, IN 46204