Outdoor Sculpture

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Copyright: 2011. The Objects Group Wiki pages are a publication of the Objects Specialty Group of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works. The Objects Group Wiki pages are published for the members of the Objects Specialty Group. Publication does not endorse or recommend any treatments, methods, or techniques described herein.


Outdoor sculpture is exposed to all weather conditions as well as human interactions such as graffiti and skateboarders, it requires a high level of maintenance and preventive care. Every climate will have particular deterioration issues in sculpture displayed outdoors for example, in Southern California the high levels of bright sunlight will accelerate the deterioration of the protective coatings that are commonly used on outdoor sculpture (Considine, et al 2010). The page below describes basic steps for annual maintenance such as cleaning and protective coatings, along with equipment and supply lists.

Materials and technology[edit | edit source]

Background[edit | edit source]

Sculpture is three-dimensional artwork created by shaping or combining hard materials—traditionally stone, metal, glass, or wood. Softer or more ephemeral materials can also be used in sculpture like clay, textiles, plastics, or polymers. The term sculpture has been extended to works that include or are entirely composed of sound, text, and light.

Traditional sculpture materials may be worked by removal such as carving; or they may be assembled by welding, hardened by firing, molded, or cast, and found objects may be presented as sculptures. Surface decoration such as paint may be applied. Sculpture has been described as one of the plastic arts because it can involve the use of materials that can be moulded or modulated.

Sculpture displayed outdoors is considered outdoor sculpture or public art. A collection of sculpture in a garden setting is referred to as a sculpture garden[1].

Although outdoor sculpture shares much with other areas of conservation, the large scale of the artworks, the heavy level of intervention sometimes needed, and industrial equipment have resulted in its development as a separate area of specialization. While outdoor sculpture is not an independent area of study, some conservators exclusively provide consultation and treatment to collections of outdoor sculptures. There are many similarities in the conservation of outdoor sculpture and the conservation of architecture.

Technology[edit | edit source]

Sources, processing, tools, fabrication, manufacture, design, construction, decorative techniques, etc.

Identification[edit | edit source]

If appropriate: visual examination, microscopy, spot tests, instrumental techniques, etc. In order to reduce overlap, generic identification issues could refer to the appropriate RATS wiki section such as Materials Testing, Analytical Techniques, or Technical Studies.

Deterioration[edit | edit source]

Material/object specific issues attributed to physical, chemical, or biological factors including light, heat, moisture, pollution, mechanical damage, faults in the design, poor quality materials, inherent vice, etc.

Conservation and care[edit | edit source]

This information is intended to be used by conservators, museum professionals, and members of the public for educational purposes only. It is not designed to substitute for the consultation of a trained conservator.

Documentation[edit | edit source]

Unique to the conservation of outdoor sculpture is the need for regular documentation and associated maintenance.

If appropriate: for examination or documentation issues specific to a material or object type, including tips for accurately and meaningfully documenting specific materials, common types of previous repairs or restoration, etc. For general recommendations, please refer to the Objects wiki article on Conservation Practices or for general conservation work practices, please refer to the main AIC wiki section on Work Practices.

Preventive conservation and maintenance[edit | edit source]

The extent of preventive conservation needed for outdoor sculpture is much higher than traditional museum or indoor works. Without constant maintenance sculptures would suffer damage from interactions with the environment and interactions with museum visitors.

Maintenance and preventive conservation can include: training, budgeting, documentation, working with living artists or artist foundations to establish ethical guidelines for the preservation of an artist's original intent during the maintenance and display of the sculpture, washing, and waxing(Considine, et al 2010).

Developing a long-term maintenance program requires a collection survey, research into the sculpture materials,research into the artist's who created the sculptures, and a knowledge of current treatments in the conservation field. Weather and environmental impact is significantly reduced by instituting Preventive Maintenance Programs for outdoor sculpture collections, where regular cleaning and coating will prevent the need for future surface removal and re-patination or re-painting.

Interventive treatments[edit | edit source]

Cleaning[edit | edit source]

Cleaning involves the removal of dirt and when an object is clean means there is little or no surface dirt on the object. Cleaning outdoor sculpture can be accomplished by a number of methods, the most common is the mechanical removal of surface dirt through washing with a pure form of water, usually distilled water, de-ionized water, or reverse-osmosis water. Tap water is not preferred because this water usually has a variety of dissolved solids and a high level of mineral content. The most common dissolved mineral in hard water is calcium carbonate, which can leave scales on the surface of a sculpture.

CaCO3 + CO2 + H2O ⇋ Ca2+ + 2HCO3-

Hard water and soap solutions can form a precipitate by the interaction of the ions to destroy the surfactant in the soap, which instead of causing the soap to form a lather, it forms a falls out of solution as a precipitate on the surface of the material, in this case the surface of the sculpture (Wikipedia contributors 2012).

CaCO3 + CO2 + H2O ⇋ Ca2+ + 2HCO3-

Mechanical, solvent, chemical, aqueous, poultices, pastes, or gels; reduction of surface dirt, grime, accretions, or stains; removal/reduction of non-original coatings or restorations; etc.

Reduction of corrosion products[edit | edit source]

For metals. mechanical, electrochemical/electrolytic, or chemical processes; etc.

Stabilization[edit | edit source]

Consolidation, desalination, deacidification, corrosion inhibitors; etc.

Structural treatments[edit | edit source]

Humidification, reshaping, removal of deteriorated previous structural repairs, structural fills, joining, mending, etc.

Aesthetic reintegration[edit | edit source]

Loss compensation, fills, casting, molding, re-touching, finishing, etc.

Surface treatments[edit | edit source]

Polishing, Protective coatings

Health and safety risks and concerns[edit | edit source]

The materials used for the treatment of outdoor sculptures present a number of challenges to the employee's, conservator's, or technician's health and safety. These sculptures are usually very large, there are usually sculptures in one area, and the sculptures may have experienced a variety of past treatments that have left remnants of a variety of previous coatings. The conservator must decide how to effectively clean and coat a sculpture or a collection of sculptures in a way that is physically safe for the conservator, safe for visitors and those that interact with the sculptures(Considine, et al 2010). Important procedures to follow are: Working Safely at Heights, proper chemical hygiene procedures for the acquisition and disposal of a variety of materials, and the environmental consequences of the materials they are using. Conservators have access to information on health and safety.


Checklists[edit | edit source]

File:Checklist outdoor sculp estimates.xls

References[edit | edit source]

Considine, Brian, Julie Wolfe, Katrina Posner, and Michel Bouchard. 2010. Conserving Outdoor Sculpture. Los Angeles. The Getty Conservation Institute.

Wikipedia contributors. 2012. 'Hard Water'. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Hard_water&oldid=472728225. Accessed January 24, 2012.

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Further readings[edit | edit source]

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