METAL SCULPTURE MAINTENANCE (1)
Sculptures in metal that are well built, exhibited indoors or stored in reletively stable environments should be more or less maintenance free, with the exception of an occasional dusting. Dust removal should be carried out as gently as possible and never using a cloth with any abrasive quality whatsoever (lint or muslin for example), and never by vigerous rubbing to develop a polish sheen – this will quickly remove a delicate PATINA and seriously devalue the sculpture’s artistic and monetary value. Better to touch the sculpture as little as possible with bare hands (when necessary, use ‘art handler’s’ soft gloves), and instead of a cloth use a gentle stream of compressed air to remove dust (such as the aerosols used for cleaning photographic equipment). Beware that the aggressive use of compressed air might cause loose grit particles to behave as blast media, possibly damaging a patina.
Consider carefully the potential hazards of placing an sculpture in a particular environment; for example, a large (expensive), polished stainless steel design with lighting tubes and acrylic glass was installed in the atrium of a cruise ship. Unthinkingly a series of barbecues was hosted on the artrium at floor level resulting in a thick deposit of sticky grease, dust and other debris on the design. Specialist workers had to be flown out to the ship's berth at some expense to clean the affected surfaces of the design.
Polished works may tarnish over time, but any remedy that involves the application of a household cleaner or polishing compound (including household stainless steel cleaners), should be avoided at all costs. Bear in mind that a mirror polish can be disturbed very easily and can be very difficult to restore to it’s original state. Where possible seek the advice of the artist or original maker, if this is not possible the services of a professional art restorer or handler should be sought. If you must attempt a cleaning operation on a highly polished artwork, try using a very soft chamois cloth, but first test a discreet area of the cast for results before progressing further. In some instances the use of a tarnish inhibitor with BENZOTRIAZOLE (BTA) component may be appropriate (the acrylic resin coating INCRALAC contains BTA), though professional advice is recommended before use on a fine quality sculpture, as is sample testing for compatability.
Constant handling and touching of a cast sculpture will result in a removal of the patina or a development of tarnish in affected areas (especially on prominant features such as the nose, knees, hands etc), if you do not want this to happen, place the artwork in an area inaccessable by hand and/or place a cautionary notice nearby. Cast sculptures that are situated out of doors are far more vulnerable to attack, both by the natural environment and from human contact. Again it is of vital importance that the cast is well constructed, with core material and core pins (where applied) completely removed. If the sculpture contains more than one type of metal (such as a steel fixing for example), intermetallic components in contact with each other should either be constructed from compatible alloys, or be fully insulated from one another (this also applies when the sculpture’s fabric is in direct contact with a secondary feature such as a metal plinth or section of architectural detail).
During the metal finishing stages (CHASING), the sculpture should be surveyed for potential water traps and a relief hole drilled through the casting at the lowest point of any pockets to allow drainage. If drilling a relief hole could lead to the collection of water within the cast’s interior, a tube should be securely attached to the hole to enable water to drain away, exiting the sculpture at a suitably discreet point. Drains should also be regularly checked for signs of fouling by leaves and other debris.
Artists might also want to give some consideration as to which PATINA application is best suited to the environment in which their sculpture will be exhibited. A complicated or delicate patina will no doubt require regular attention to keep the artwork looking as intended; whereas a heavy green or dark black/brown patina will possibly retain it’s 'look' in the long term, obviously according to local conditions.
< BACK / NEXT >