Good for the Sol: Conserving a LeWitt Sculpture

 Sol LeWitt was a pioneer for Minimal and Conceptual art. After serving in the US Army, LeWitt started his art career in the late 1950s in New York City. He worked as a graphic designer and museum receptionist to support himself and his art, and had his first solo show at the John Daniels Gallery in 1965. By 1970, his name was synonymous with Minimalist art.

Sol LeWitt. Image via  Widewalls

Sol LeWitt. Image via Widewalls

The Center’s conservators have become familiar with LeWitt’s work after conserving dozens of paintings, works on paper, and sculpture by the artist. Our most recent interaction with the artist’s work was the treatment of his piece, “1 2 3 4 5 (Vertical),” a painted aluminum sculpture with a steel base.

Before Treatment

Before Treatment

In addition to a heavy layer of particulates on the entire surface of the sculpture, the piece came to The Center with scattered paint losses throughout each layer. On the second cube from the top, our conservators found a yellow accretion, as well as yellowing areas of overpaint at the joint intersections on the fourth cube from the top.

Before Treatment; detail of losses and discolored overpaint

Before Treatment; detail of losses and discolored overpaint

Before Treatment; detail of discolorations

Before Treatment; detail of discolorations

The lowest cube’s bottom-most row was overpainted with a thick layer of latex paint.  There was discoloration in the overpaint at threaded screw holes at all four corners.  The Sol LeWitt foundation was contacted by our team, and we were able to confirm that the screw holes were not original to the piece.  There was also a small dent in the aluminum in this cube.

Inpainting losses and abrasions

Inpainting losses and abrasions

The metal stand for the sculpture exhibited areas of oxidation at the welds, and grime, accretions, and adhesive residue on the top plate. The Sol LeWitt foundation also confirmed that the stand was not original to the piece.  The client elected to have a new stand fabricated and not to proceed with treatment of the base.

After Treatment

After Treatment

After initial photography, the sculpture was sent to our Object and Sculpture Department for treatment. The first step was a surface cleaning. Next, the overpaint was removed from the fourth and fifth cubes. The dent and screw holes at the bottom cube were filled using appropriate conservation methods, and areas of paint loss throughout were filled to achieve a flush surface. Fills, abrasions, and the screw holes were then inpainted with reversible paint. For protection, felt tabs were applied to the bottom edge of all four corners of the sculpture to create a separation between the sculpture and the base.

After Treatment

After Treatment

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