METAL SCULPTURE MAINTENANCE (2)
The extent to which a metal sculpture can deteriorate depends greatly upon it's location and environmental conditions. A sculpture situated in a dry inland and rural region, perhpas protected from the worst of the elemenets, could be excpected to fare much better than if the same sculpture was placed in an exposed position in a heavily industrialised coastal city, close to busy motor routes and factories. Any metal sculpture situated within a corrosive environment will inevitably sustain some form of chemical action to both it’s treated surfaces (patina/wax) and cast fabric (metal structures), or most likely both.
Art founders are mainly concerned with the production of new artworks and although some run maintenance programmes, there is for the most part little demand for them to do this kind of work. Owners of cast artworks may be best served by seeking out a specialist company or individual expert to advise on a suitable schedule of maintenance. It is important to engage the services of a specialist company with experience in maintaining art and design works, do not use a general building services contractor unless they have specific expertise in this area and access to [accredited] professional advice.
If a maintainace company is contacted soon after the installation of a cast sculpture, it may be possible for them to liase with the founder, allowing them to gain the greatest possible knowlege of the artwork for future reference. It is probably fair to assume that a carefully considered, sympahetic and well balanced maintenance regime will not only keep a cast sculpture looking at it’s best, but also counteract long term deterioration and thus delay or totally prevent the need for extensive restoration. Having a living artist approve or even better, supervise a proposed maintainace programme is invaluable and should also satisfy any ethical concerns over technical intervention and artistic integrity.
So what does a typical maintenance programme consist of? Well as noted earlier, no two artworks are really alike and so there is perhaps no such thing as a typical programme – a programme being ideally taylored both to the needs of the individual artwork and not least, the degree of committment and resources available to the sculpture’s owner or curator.
A two year maintenance cycle is generally acceptable for most out of doors situated sculptures, though artworks placed in adverse conditions (exposed to high levels of salt water or pollution), may be better served by an annual check. First off, the sculpture should be visually inspected, this in itself can be difficult if the sculpture is situated in an inaccessable place such as on a high column or lofty alcove. Ideally, a visual inspection will reveal no problems and the work can be left alone until it’s next scheduled check-up. In many cases, a light cleansing with warm water and a very soft cloth may be advisable to prevent the build up of guano, grime and dust.
A regular maintenance programme will eventually require the sculpture to be rewaxed or revarnished, according to the originally applied protection. Rewaxing should be done using the original materials and application method where known – unless of course it has been since found that these original techniques are potentially detremental to the work. Microcrystalline based waxes of various compositions are often used to rewax cast sculptures, though other blends, containing a portion of bees' wax or carnauba wax may be just as or even more appropriate, especially if a hard resistant coating is desirable (all these waxes can be softened for application by blending with a solvent such as fine turpentine, but bear in mind that bees' wax in particular can harden and crack over a period of time).
If the original method of wax application is not known (ie hot or cold), the safest course is apply a new wax coating by cold brushing. Applying a wax cold is safer than pre-heating the sculpture with a torch because heating can permanantly change an original patina colour or tone (light green patinas are especially prone to permanent tonal change when heated). When wax is applied to a delicate patina at room temperature (using a soft brush), some darkening will usually be observed immediately; however the patina should revert to it’s original tone once all the excess solvent in the wax product has air dried. If the patina being re-waxed is heat safe, the sculpture can be gently warmed (carefully avoiding the creation of hot spots) and a protective wax applied with a soft brush. The newly waxed sculpture should be left to cool to room temperature, after which the hardened wax coating can be lightly polished to restore it's sheen.
Varnished metal sculptures can be more problematic as these artworks usually require a stripping off of the old coating before the application of a new layer. This type of maintenance can usually be considered to fall within the preserve of the restorer; as such, laquered sculptures should be surveyed and worked on by an approritate expert.
A simple, careful maintenance programme carried out on a regular basis should prevent or at least delay many of the problems associated with the exposure of metal artworks to the environment. With regular inspections, any structural or surface problems that are identified can be examined further and dealt with before serious deterioration occurs. If the artwork is relatively new, this may require the return of the cast to the original founder to effect repairs, however in most instances the sculpture is likely to be several decades old at least, so some level of specialist intervnetion will be called for. This can vary from measures being taken to simply prevent the problem deteriorating further, to a full restoration of the artwork to it’s original condition.
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