Conservation and restoration of outdoor artworks

The conservation and restoration of outdoor artworks is the activity dedicated to the preservation and protection of artworks that are exhibited or permanently installed outside. These works may be made of wood, stone, ceramic material, plastic, bronze, copper, or any other number of materials and may or may not be painted. When applied to cultural heritage this activity is generally undertaken by a conservator-restorer.

Artist Brose Partington applies wax using a torch to a bronze sculpture.

Environmental issues

Unlike many works of cultural heritage, outdoor artworks are not exhibited in a controlled environment, where temperature and relative humidity are closely monitored. Though works may be more easily preserved in a controlled environment, they are installed outside to preserve the artist's intent, and avoid decontextualization.[1] Instead, outdoor works are exposed to many and various environmental factors depending upon its geographic or site location and its configuration.[2]

Environmental threats may include, but are not limited to rain, snow, acid rain, and earthquakes as well as fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity. They may also be exposed to excessive amounts of light as well as human intervention. Excessive rain and moisture can also lead to mold growth. Daily exposure to ultraviolet, visible, and infrared (IR) radiation has a detrimental effect on painted sculptures or those with organic or inorganic coatings. Excessive light exposure may cause color alterations and loss as well as structural breakdowns in the paint and coatings.[3]

Air pollution can also adversely affect outdoor artworks. In addition to meteorological conditions, traditional outdoor pollutants including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and ozone affect the various composite materials.[4] The specific level and type of air pollution degradation is dependent on the material and composition of the artwork as well as the length of exposure. Organic carbonyl pollutants are also an increasing threat due increased use of ethanol based fuels.[4]

Contemporary conservation methods

Though specific conservation methods are dependent on the material, condition, and environment for each artwork, there are some standard practices for outdoor works. These include condition assessment, treatment, preventive conservation, and maintenance.

Assessment of condition

Before any conservation treatment, a thorough condition assessment with written and photographic documentation is completed. This initial assessment may include research into the artist's working techniques or a discussion with the living artist, review of the conservation history of the object, and non-destructive analysis.

According to Virginia Naudé and Glenn Wharton, there are four steps that come with the assessment or survey of an outdoor sculpture:[5]

  1. Technical descriptions and condition assessments of each sculpture: Identification and exploration of materials, fabrication, past maintenance practices, surface condition, and structural integrity. This also includes an assessment of previous repairs, treatment and/or maintenance.
  2. Maintenance recommendations for each sculpture: Recommendations based on the history, condition, and location of the sculpture, the resources of the owner, and the relative needs of the sculpture in the context of the whole collection. The maintenance recommendation should include information on routine care and periodic treatment.
  3. Assignment of priorities to recommended activities: Conservator-assigned priorities based on the previously attained technical information. These priorities will later be assessed by stakeholders in relation to art historical, fund-raising, and other priorities.
  4. Estimate of resources required: Includes labor costs of the various maintenance options proposed for conservators, technicians, and other specialists. An estimate of hours is particularly useful if the recommended work will not take place immediately. Supplies and equipment costs are also included.

Treatment of outdoor artworks

The treatment of outdoor artworks is multifaceted and dependent on the material type, condition, structural integrity, and exhibition conditions. A brief overview of conservation treatments by material is outlined below, and more thorough discussions are available on the individual conservation pages.

Preventive conservation

Wax and a brush used to maintain a bronze sculpture.

Preventive conservation involves actions taken to delay deterioration of cultural heritage. For outdoor artworks, this usually involves the application of a protective coating and regular maintenance. The particular protective coating is chosen based on its durability, adhesion to the surface, ease of maintenance, and surface appearance on the work.[2] The coating provides some protection from environmental factors, but must be occasionally be reduced and reapplied for best results. A long-term conservation schedule should be created and implemented to ensure the longevity of the artwork. A maintenance walk-through schedule should also be established to routinely check the condition of the objects. This may be a weekly procedure; it is useful as conservators can assess and document any damage caused by visitors or environmental conditions, and may rinse and wipe down sculptures.[3]

Tools and products

This section is an abbreviated list. For the detailed list, please refer to the conservation and restoration of outdoor bronze sculptures.


Sealants/lacquers/corrosion inhibitors


Non-ionic detergents

See also


  1. 1 2 Chiantore, Oscar, and A. Rava. (2005). Conserving Contemporary Art: Issues, Methods, Materials, and Research. Los Angeles, CA: Getty Publications.
  2. 1 2 Naudė, Virginia N. (1985). Sculptural Monuments in an Outdoor Environment. Philadelphia, PA: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Considine, Brian B. (2010). Conserving Outdoor Sculpture: The Stark Collection at the Getty Center. Los Angeles, CA: The Getty Conservation Institute.
  4. 1 2 Grzywacz, Cecily M. (2006). Monitoring for Gaseous Pollutants in Museum Environments. Tools for Conservation. Los Angeles, CA: Getty Conservation Institute.
  5. Naudé, Virginia N. (1993). Guide to the Maintenance of Outdoor Sculpture. Washington, D.C.: American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works
  6. Kipper, Patrick V. (1996). The Care of Bronze Sculpture: Recommended Maintenance Programs for the Collector. Loveland, CO: Path Publications. ISBN 0964726912.
  7. 1 2 3 Kipper, Patrick V. (1996). The Care of Bronze Sculpture: Recommended Maintenance Programs for the Collector. Loveland, CO: Path Publications.
  8. Dent Weil, Phoebe (1974). "Problems of Preservation of Out-Door Bronze Sculpture: Examination and Treatment of ‘The Meeting of the Waters’ in St. Louis, Missouri". Bulletin of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works 14 (2)
  9. Scott, David A. (2002). Copper and Bronze in Art: Corrosion, Colorants, Conservation. Los Angeles, CA: The Getty Conservation Institute.
  10. Zycherman, Lynda A.; Nicholas F. Veloz Jr. (1979). "Conservation of a Monumental Outdoor Bronze Sculpture: "Theodore Roosevelt" By Paul Manship". Journal of the American Institute for Conservation 19 (1).

External links

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