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Art, Color, and Gloss

Our guest blogger today is Nicole Peters, IMA Scholar Objects & Variable Art Summer Intern.

Nicole Peters, IMA Scholar Objects & Variable Art Summer Intern, on a Boat.

Prior to starting my summer internship, when I was putting the finishing touches on my Masters in Art History at West Virginia University, I had been daydreaming about working on the 18th-century European porcelain and ancient Chinese bronzes located in the IMA’s collection.  During my first phone conversation with Richard McCoy back in April, I soon found out that my internship would not include what I had been working on at WVU, but instead I would be charged with researching, documenting, and conserving the eight site-specific contemporary installations within 100 Acres: The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park. My initial reaction was, “Well, this sounds pretty interesting…and besides, there’s probably some bronzes and marble sculptures in there somewhere, right?”

Fast-forward to today, six weeks along in my internship, and I am learning more about various formats of fiberglass, powder-coating, galvanized steel, and industrial paint systems than I ever thought I would.  But more importantly, my internship here has been encouraging me to fully consider and understand contemporary art materials, contemporary installation processes, and the importance of site maintenance and regular inspection.  As I engulf myself in this project, I am becoming familiar with various conservation terminology and procedures, and the instruments involved in the technical study of artworks.

One of my current projects at 100 Acres involves recording and monitoring the level of color and gloss on Jeppe Hein’s Bench Around the Lake, Los Carpinteros’ Free Basket steel arches, and Atelier Van Lieshout’s fiberglass installation, Funky Bones.

Nicole Peters Making Colorimetric Measurements on “Funky Bones.”

With the help of two useful instruments, the Micro-TRI-gloss Glossmeter and the Spectrophotometer CM- 700d/600d, and one very knowledgeable conservation scientist at the IMA, Greg D. Smith, we have been able to begin detailed research projects on important IMA artworks. Using these instruments requires both manual and technical competency, but more importantly, the information recorded must be understood and interpreted in a way that it is not only accessible to conservators, but also curators, registrars, and even the artists themselves. Thus far, color and gloss measurements have been recorded for the steel and plastic components of Free Basket and the black and white fiberglass sections of Funky Bones. Measurements for the fifteen individual bench installations for Bench Around the Lake are currently in progress.

The colorimeter instrument is able to digitally plot a precise numerical coordinate that corresponds with an exact color located on the CIE L*a*b* color charting system.  When colors are digitized, it becomes possible to express minute differences in what is essentially the same color.  These are called color differentials (i.e. Δ L*, Δ a*, and Δ b*). The CIE L*a*b* system evaluates hue (color), value (lightness or darkness), and chroma (saturation).

Plot of Red and Blue Paint Used on “Free Basket.”

For example, the color for the red and blue arches of Free Basket was measured and plotted in the above image.  This measurement is to be taken annually and the sample location should be taken in the same area each time.

  The other piece of equipment I mentioned is the Micro-TRI-gloss Glossmeter.  It takes three surface readings at 20°, 60°, and 85° in order to compensate for the different levels of gloss.  A 20° geometry is suitable for a High Gloss surface, a 60° for Semi Gloss, and 85° for Low Gloss, as shown in the image below.  The instrument evaluates the specular (or mirror-like) reflection of a surface and is often associated with the amount or level of gloss.

Angles Used by the Gloss Meter.

By taking an initial measurement, every value recorded afterward can be compared to the initial numerical value to assess how much of the gloss layer has been lost.  This loss can be crucial to the artwork’s appearance or presentation, in addition to the preservation of the interior components being protected by the gloss barrier.

The concept of monitoring the amount of light exposure and its effects on delicate or sensitive artworks was not foreign to me, but how this information is relevant to a contemporary outdoor installation was certainly a viewpoint I had not previously considered.  Although modern paint systems and structural materials can be formulated to better withstand environmental threats such as light exposure, pollution and moisture, the fact remains that outdoor sculptures and installations are constantly being exposed to these harsh conditions that will ultimately lead to their degradation.

Nicole Peters Making Gloss Measurements on “Free Basket.”

What I’ve found is that recording gloss and color levels is an important part of a regular maintenance plan for outdoor artworks whose material composition or coating systems can be affected by environmental agents.  I’m excited to be here at the IMA to help develop this program.

The recorded information can be used in order to gain a better understanding of how different surfaces and materials react to constant exposure from environmental agents. Gradual changes in an artwork’s surface may not be noticeable over an extended period of time, but they can be scientifically described using these two instruments. Also, it is possible that the data can be extrapolated and perhaps applied to other artworks made from similar materials.  In the end, this information may inform artists when they are choosing their materials to make their work.

Filed under: Art, Art and Nature Park, Conservation, IMA Staff

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