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Subject: Tate AXA Modern Paints Project

Tate AXA Modern Paints Project

From: Luke Gillin <luke.gillin<-at->
Date: Monday, November 2, 2009
A pioneering three-year research project, the Tate AXA Art Modern
Paints Project (TAAMPP), has now been completed, providing vital
information for conservators and artists about the properties of
acrylic-based paints. This project has enabled the expansion of the
first major in-depth study of these paints anywhere in the world and
the results will help to preserve modern masterpieces and provide
the springboard for further much-needed research into this now
widely-used medium.

Since the early 1960s, acrylic emulsion paints and primers have been
extensively used by artists, accounting for approximately 50% of
paint sales over the last 30 years. They are also the most common
priming medium for modern canvases. The need to explore conservation
issues surrounding these paints has recently become more pressing as
early acrylic works are now approaching 50 years old. Despite the
frequent occurrence of acrylic paint in collections, conservators
have previously had access to little information on how acrylic
emulsion paints might alter with age, or how they are affected by
conservation treatments such as surface cleaning.

A key finding of the project has been in the examination of
surfactant, a detergent-like material which stabilises the paints
when wet but which can move to the surface to produce a grey-ish
tone when dry, attracting dirt and dust. Water-based cleaning
treatments can rapidly remove this material and do not appear to
have a detrimental effect on the long-term performance of these
paints. The development of a successful strategy to assess and
monitor the migration of surfactant to the surface of the paints and
improve its removal and cleaning on artworks will have a lasting
impact in the care of many modern paintings.

The TAAMPP involved investigation into five key inter-related
aspects of acrylic emulsion paints:

    *   an evaluation of surface cleaning techniques commonly used
        by conservators to remove deposited soiling from
        acrylic-based paint surfaces

    *   an exploration of the general properties of these paints

    *   an exploration of preventive conservation measures to
        prolong the life of acrylic-based artworks (summarised in
        'Caring for Acrylics: Modern and Contemporary Paintings'

    *   an exploration of the effects of soiling accumulation on
        these paint surfaces and whether applying a varnish may be
        appropriate for these often unprotected and vulnerable paint

    *   the conservation treatment of five key acrylic paintings in
        Tate's collection: Bernard Cohen's Painting with Three
        Spots, One Blue and Two Yellow 1970, John Hoyland's 25-4-69
        1969, Alexander Liberman's Andromeda 1962, Jeremy Moon's
        Untitled 2-72-1972 and Andy Warhol's Brooke Hayward 1973.

The TAAMPP also produced information on best practice for collectors
of acrylic emulsion-based works of art as outlined in the Tate - AXA
Art publication Caring for Acrylics: Modern and Contemporary
Paintings. Acrylic emulsion works have delicate surfaces and, as
these paints are prone to softening in warm and humid environments,
it is vital that storage, packing and transportation is carefully
planned so that no materials are allowed to touch the paint surface.
The publication provides the following advice:


    Consult a conservator if you are unsure about any aspect of the
    care of your acrylic paintings--including condition, storage,
    display, environment, transport, dusting/cleaning.

    Remember that acrylic paints are softer than other paints and
    therefore more vulnerable to surface damage, heat from lighting,
    materials touching the surface and dirt accumulation.

    Try to keep the environment (storage, display, transportation)
    as stable as possible, ideally within the extremes of 15-25 deg.
    C (59-77 deg. F) and 40- 60% RH (relative humidity). Also be
    aware that rapid changes in temperature and RH can be as
    damaging as extreme values.

    Make sure you are adequately insured with a specialist insurer
    who will be able to help in the unfortunate event of an accident
    or damage.


    Use wet cloths/impregnated cloths for dusting the painting--as
    the surfaces of acrylic paintings are delicate and can be
    irreversibly damaged by well-intentioned individuals.

    Apply any domestic or proprietary cleaning/coating materials to
    the surface of acrylic emulsion paintings as this may result in
    permanent damage.

    Handle unframed acrylic paintings with bare hands--use
    cotton/vinyl or even smooth leather gloves and keep any contact
    with the paint surface to a minimum

Nicholas Serota, Director of Tate said

   "Tate has led much of the research into this area over the past
    decade, and since 2006, our partnership with AXA Art has enabled
    this crucial research to progress."

Dr Ulrich Guntram, Global CEO of AXA Art Insurance, said

   "With 50% of AXA Art's private and corporate clients across the
    world collecting modern works, we saw this research to be of
    huge value to the global collecting community.  We are delighted
    that the Tate team has brought this issue to the fore and
    provoked thought and discussion in this field, as an authority
    on the protection and restoration of acrylics.  As the world's
    only art-led insurer, AXA Art is committed to developing
    conservation solutions and protecting valued artworks for future

Dr Bronwyn Ormsby, Senior Conservation Scientist at Tate concluded:

   "This research has both informed and inspired debate within the
    conservation and collections care professions, and project
    results have directly contributed to the establishment of best
    conservation and preservation practice."

John Hoyland, whose painting 25-4-69 was conserved as part of the
project, recently stated that

   "Acrylic is a new painting medium as oil once was--all that's
    lacking is the smell of linseed oil in the studio. I feel very
    strongly that the understanding of acrylic paint and research
    into the preservation of acrylic works of art should be an
    ongoing and important activity."

A further important outcome of the project is the initiation of
related, complimentary research. Tate will continue research into an
important aspect of the TAAMPP through collaborations with
long-standing modern paints research partner, the Getty Conservation
Institute in Los Angeles and The Dow Chemical Company, Midland in
the USA, where new technologies and materials for surface cleaning
modern paint surfaces will be further explored.

Committed to preserving the world's artistic heritage, AXA Art
initiated the AXA Art Research Grant, which offers support for
projects that seek to develop and disseminate new restoration, and
conservation techniques. The AXA Art Research Grant is awarded to
globally renowned art institutes that pursue a goal: extending the
life span of art objects for the preservation of cultural assets for
coming generations.

Over the course of the project, Dr Ormsby and the TAAMPP team
including AXA Art Research Fellow Dr Elina Kampasakali, Tate's Head
of Paintings Conservation Patricia Smithen and main project partner
Dr Tom Learner from the Getty Conservation Institute, have delivered
over 30 presentations and produced over 20 publications aimed at a
wide range of audiences.  For more information see




                  Conservation DistList Instance 23:16
                 Distributed: Friday, November 6, 2009
                       Message Id: cdl-23-16-002
Received on Monday, 2 November, 2009

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