Robert Motherwell: Float Washing, Hinging, and New Housing

Robert Motherwell was an American artist and influential presence in the art world in New York during the 1940s.  As a member of The New York School of Abstract Expressionism, Motherwell was known for his intuitive and gestural approach to painting.  During Motherwell’s tenure at Columbia University, celebrated art historian Meyer Schapiro brought Motherwell into the fold with other renowned artists of the time such as Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollack, Willlem de Kooning, and Ad Reinhardt.  Motherwell later went on to teach Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly at Black Mountain College.


Untitled was brought to The Center to address age-related issues and improper housing.  The sheet had been hinged directly to a linen mount and there was select off-gassing onto the glazing from printed passages of the black ink. The overall sheet exhibited darkening due to age-related discoloration caused by the presence of the linen-lined support.


The sheet exhibited a minimal layer of surface soil and select handling dents scattered throughout areas of the margins and within the printed area.   There was distortion along the bottom and top edges of the sheet, and there were select creases in the lower portion of the work.


The conservator began treatment by cutting the sheet free at hinges, separating it from the linen mount.  The sheet was then surface cleaned on the recto and verso with soft eraser crumbs and textile sponges, paying special attention to margins and verso. 


Next, the sheet was float washed to reduce acidic content, the hinges were floated free in a bath, and the adhesive was removed.  The recto of the sheet was light bleached at the margins, followed by an additional light bleaching treatment for the overall verso of the sheet.  The sheet was air dried slightly so as to retain plate marks and the blind stamp. Then, the sheet was perimeter-weighted between cotton blotters and Plexiglas. 

New hinges were added and the piece was then assembled into a proper housing package with anti-reflective, UV-filtering acrylic glazing.