Caring for the Collection: Outdoor Sculpture
Caring for the collection is one of the primary responsibilities of the Museum staff. In addition to careful maintenance of the works of art inside the museum building, we also adhere to a strict conservation program for the works of art on display outdoors. Harsh outdoor environmental conditions can take a toll on even the toughest work of art. Ultraviolet light can fade pigments and break down protective lacquer and wax coatings. Dirt can become imbedded in crevices and also cause unsightly streaks. Pollutants can permanently etch even the most durable surface. Occasionally our seasoned Museum staff will consult with professional conservators, but usually they know how to address even the most difficult problems.
The Registrar’s Department routinely examines the condition of the outdoor sculptures, keeping tabs on any condition change, and documenting their findings with written reports and digital photographs. At least twice a year, usually in the spring and fall when the weather is most agreeable (to both staff and sculpture!), BMA preparators perform preventive treatments, with their processes varying depending on the medium (i.e., material) of the work of art. Stainless steel sculptures, such as the George Rickey mobile or the Doug Hollis chairs, get a gentle washing using a neutral pH detergent. Ironically, this detergent is also used as a horse shampoo! No further treatment is usually required for stainless works. Bronze works of art, however, can be deceptively fragile, and after a gentle washing usually require applications of specialized clear and colored waxes to protect their patina.
Recently the Museum brought home our monumental Betty Gold sculpture, previously on long-term loan to the Alabama School of Fine Arts for display at its front entrance. Craned to our site during the early morning hours, we placed it prominently on a corner of our front lawn. After it was installed, our first step was to get the sculpture back to optimum condition, first by blasting the surface to get rid of rust and oxidized paint. Then it was carefully primed and painted a cheery bright red, the color chosen by the artist.
On your next visit to the museum, remember to visit our outdoor galleries and enjoy these important works of art. If you’re lucky you might just see a treatment in progress!