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The Chemistry of Cleaning Defaced Modern Art

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Black on Maroon, Mark Rothko, 1958.

Restoring works of art isn’t exactly like restoring Vigo in Ghostbusters II. For one thing, the challenges can be great even on restoring works less than 100 years old. In this fantastic and brief video, chemist Sophia Cai describes how Dow Chemical worked with Tate Museum art restoration and conservation experts to return Mark Rothko’s Modernist painting Black on Maroon to its proper imposing presence.


In the case of art from the last couple of hundred years, we’re lucky if there are practice works available to test like this! On older works, if they are stretched on canvas, at times it’s possible to test the canvas wrapped around the back of the frame, *if* the painter happened to paint around that far. For myself, when I varnish a painting, I note the year, company and name of the varnish used so if the varnish is ever removed in some far flung trilobite-worshipping future, they can hopefully know exactly what to do.

Restoring Art Done Right is the 6th episode in the Speaking of Chemistry series by C&EN. Tip o’ the hat to Carmen Drahl for sharing the video.



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Glendon Mellow About the Author: Glendon Mellow is a fine artist, illustrator and tattoo designer working in oil and digital media based in Toronto, Canada. He tweets @FlyingTrilobite and is on Instagram. You can see Glendon's work-in-progress at The Flying Trilobite blog and portfolio at Follow on Twitter @symbiartic.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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