What’s inside this tent? Henry Moore’s monumental sculpture Bronze Form 5/6—normally the first artwork visitors see when arriving at the Getty Center—is undergoing a conservation treatment behind a rather mysterious-looking safety screen. My colleagues and I will be working on the sculpture outdoors through early June.
Bronze Form and Large Figure in a Shelter are sculptor Henry Moore’s final two series of sculptures. They were fabricated in the artist’s native England in 1985-86 by welding together cast-bronze elements. Sculptures from these series are currently installed around the world, in cities as diverse as Copenhagen, Seoul, Wellington, New Zealand, and Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Bronze Form 5/6 came to the Getty in 2005 as part of the 28-piece gift of modern outdoor sculpture from Ray Stark and his wife, Fran. Their collection has been on view since 2007 in several areas around the Getty Center, including the Fran and Ray Stark Sculpture Garden just outside the tram station at the bottom of the hill. Moore’s Draped Reclining Mother and Baby from 1983 and Seated Woman are also included in this collection.
The Getty Museum’s Decorative Arts and Sculpture Conservation Department began research into the technical history of the Bronze Form as soon as it arrived, because it was apparent that the piece was in need of a conservation treatment. The sculpture came to us coated with a clear acrylic-urethane that had been compromised due to years of outdoor exposure. The failure of this coating was causing the surface of the sculpture to slowly darken. There were also breaks in the coating, which have allowed black and greenish corrosion to form. The goal for the upcoming treatment is to remove this coating and reapply a new and more protective one.
Because it would be difficult to move the sculpture for treatment (it is over 14 feet high and sits on a massive pedestal designed just for it), our work is being done in situ. A large containment tent was fabricated around the piece and is allowing the conservation work to take place safely. Because the treatment involves the spray-application of a new coating, we have to ensure that no airborne particulates—whether from nearby construction work on the Getty Center entrance or from the 405 freeway—sticks to the surface while the coating is drying.
The first step in the treatment is to remove the old coating. We tested several removal methods, but decided to use a non-abrasive method known as Dry Ice Blasting. We are directing high-pressure frozen carbon dioxide (CO2) “snow” at the surface of the sculpture, creating localized thermal-shocks that separate the coating from the metal surface without affecting the metal or the fragile patina. The carbon dioxide method also thoroughly cleans the surface, preparing it beautifully to receive the new coating. We’ll then perform minor aesthetic tasks to help minimize irregularities on the surface caused by past treatments and damages, as well as to reduce the corrosion. As a final step, we’ll coat the surface with a new protective layer. Throughout the project, my colleagues and I will be collaborating with local conservator John Griswold, who has expertise in both sculpture and contemporary art.
After the treatment, Bronze Form won’t look substantially different from the way it does today, but it will be better protected from the elements.
Our work will take place inside the containment tent, so visitors won’t be able to see the treatment as it progresses (or us conservators behind the barrier). I’m happy to take questions about the project here on The Iris and tell you more about what we’re doing behind the scenes!