Conservation Projects

This cube - shown before restoration - was one of 33 units that showed discoloration and cracking paint.

The AMAM acquired Sol LeWitt's 49 Three-Part Variations on Three Different Kinds of Cubes, one of the artist's major early constructions, in 1972. By the mid-1990s the work could no longer be exhibited due to paint cracks and losses, discoloration and other condition problems.

The problems were the result of what conservators describe as an "inherent vice," which implies that the root of the problems lay in the initial manufacture and/ or choice of materials. In this case, it was the result of poor adhesion of the paint to the steel substrate as well as discoloration of the paint itself.

In summer 2004, the AMAM embarked on a two and a half year project to restore the work.

ICA objects conservator Mark Erdmann and
paintings conservator Heather Galloway
mechanically remove the aged paint layer on the cubes.

The restoration was carried out under the direction of conservator Heather Galloway at the Intermuseum Conservation Association (ICA) in Cleveland. One of the earliest steps was to collaborate with Sol LeWitt and his curator to determine that the original paint should be removed and then to document that paint for color and gloss so that its appearance could be recreated with different materials. To assist with LeWitt's color selection, his curator visited the ICA to examine the piece before it was stripped of color.

The restoration began with each cube stack being sandblasted to expose the steel.

John Taylor of Austin Finishing Co. spray paints an interior cavity of a cube tower.

After sandblasting, the stacks were coated in oil to prevent oxidation (rust). They were then degreased by hand and given a wash prime, which was applied to enhance adhesion between the steel and the paint coats. Spray-painting the cubes was especially painstaking, because both exterior and interior cavities had to be coated evenly.

John Taylor and David Turner (at rear) of Austin Finishing Co. scuff individual cubes.

Multiple coats of paint had to be applied to achieve the right coverage and gloss. After each application of paint, the surfaces were scuffed by hand to ensure the adhesion of later coats.

The work is currently on view in the Ellen Johnson Gallery and will remain on view through December 2007.