Global Observer

Modern science investigates contemporary art

Modern science investigates contemporary art

Posting in Education

MELBOURNE -- A global research study seeks to understand how modern paints perform over time.

MELBOURNE -- The University of Melbourne is leading a global research project known as “The Twentieth Century in Paint Project." This study will examine how contemporary artworks age, and how we can best preserve them.

Experts from both the science and art disciplines are working together to look at how modern materials such as dyes, digital prints, pigments and additives perform over time, and how they might impact on the paint handling and preservation of today's artworks.

In a recent video podcast Associate Professor Robyn Sloggett, from the Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation, states that there has been major changes to the art-making process during the twentieth century.

Many traditional artists have been moving away from oil paints and embracing new media and materials such as PVA (polyvinyl acetate) and acrylics, but there has also been a significant lack of understanding on the preservation issues associated with this change.

”The problem with artists picking up all of the materials made in the twentieth century is that these materials were not necessarily made for art-making practice, so they are behaving in ways that we can’t really predict. For example, they’ll fade, they’ll crack, and they’ll bubble,” Assoc. Prof. Sloggett said in the video interview.

On a molecular level, Professor Carl Schiesser from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Free Radical Chemistry and Biotechnology, is leading a study to look at how free radicals can decay paint.

Prof. Schiesser's team have developed a new fluorescent technology that can detect free radical damage to modern materials in artworks (read the ARC's "Explore Free Radicals" PDF (4.9MB) for more information).

The team will recreate paint products which existed in the 1950s and compare them with today's paints, artificially aging them to give art handlers a better understanding of how to treat artworks.

The multidisciplinary research team hopes that the project will enable manufacturers to develop paints that will age well over time, and to help conservation experts develop effective preservation techniques to prevent the deterioration and degradation of twentieth-century art.

The Twentieth Century in Paint Project is sponsored and funded by the Australian Research Council. The project also aims to collect, develop, deposit, archive and provide access to information and data relating to the development of art across Asia-Pacific during the twentieth century.

The research institutes and organizations involved in the project include the University of Melbourne, the National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, ArtLab Australia, the Queensland Art Gallery, the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, and several Asian research partners from the Philippines, Thailand, and Malaysia.

The Tate (U.K.) and the Getty Conservation Institute (U.S.) are collaborating partners.

Photo: Andrzej Nowicki

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Lieu Thi Pham

Correspondent (Melbourne)

Lieu Thi Pham is a freelance writer based in Melbourne, Australia. She has contributed to The Age, Associated Newspapers, Melbourne University Magazine, the Big Issue, Dazed and Confused, Indesign Group, Time Out, SOMA and Niche Media. She holds degrees from the University of Melbourne and RMIT University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure