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Art Conservation Goes Al Fresco


Sculptures Come Out of Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery To Receive Preservation Work in Public View



Media only:
Erick Hoffman 202-633-0447 or 202-412-3916; hoffmane@si.edu
Megan Krefting 202-633-0271; kreftingm@si.edu


Media website:
asia.si.edu/press


July 7, 2017

Art conservation goes on every day at the Smithsonian’s many museums and research centers, but usually out of public view. The Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art, however, will buck that trend this summer when staff oversee the conservation of a pair of the gallery’s important American sculptures. The works will be moved outside the Freer and blasted with dry-ice pellets through a high-pressure nozzle to clean them. The public can witness this new and dramatic conservation process take place July 12–14 in front of the Freer Gallery on Jefferson Drive.

The Freer’s two allegorical sculptures “Labor Supported by Science and Art” and “Law Supported by Power and Love” are by Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848–1907), the preeminent American sculptor of the late 19th century. They have graced the Freer Gallery’s central courtyard for the past 16 years. While the sculptures were always intended for outdoor display, continuous exposure to the environment has caused deterioration to their surfaces. Layers of deteriorated old protective coatings will be removed from the sculptures along with corrosion, dirt and pollutants from outside display using dry-ice blasting. A few small areas of patina loss will be filled and a new wax coating applied to protect the sculptures for their return to the Freer courtyard. The project is funded by the Smithsonian Women’s Committee.

“This important maintenance treatment will allow for ongoing outdoor display in the courtyard, one of the most beautiful spaces in Washington and an integral component in the architectural design and aesthetic experience of the Freer Gallery,” said Lee Glazer, curator of American art at the Freer. “Conservation and scientific research have been integral to our museum’s mission from its founding, and we are thrilled that the public will have a chance to see an important conservation project in progress.”

Previously, toxic solvents were used to remove protective coatings from sculptures, a laborious process posing health and environmental hazards. This method of blasting solid carbon dioxide (dry-ice) pellets through a specially constructed nozzle is relatively new to the conservation field. It produces no chemical or secondary waste and can remove old coatings and grime with no damage to the existing patina.

The two compositions of draped figures (approximately 2.7 by 4.8 by 1.5 feet) were purchased in 1915 by museum founder Charles Lang Freer (1854–1919), who intended for them to ornament the Freer Gallery, which opened in 1923. “Law Supported by Power and Love” has a male figure representing law surrounded on one side by a sword-bearing female, and on the other by two nestling figures of a mother and a child. “Labor Supported by Science and Art” portrays a male holding a sledge hammer surrounded on one side by a female holding a globe and on the other by a female holding a lyre.

Once the process is complete, the sculptures will be returned to the Freer’s courtyard and can be enjoyed by visitors to the museum when it reopens in October.

The Freer closed in January 2016 for renovations, upgrades and the revitalization of gallery spaces; the adjoining Arthur M. Sackler Gallery is closing July 10 for similar reasons.

Both the Freer and Sackler galleries will mark their joint reopening by celebrating “Where Asia Meets America” on the National Mall Oct. 14–15. The grounds of the Freer and Sackler will be transformed into a vibrant night market, complete with food stalls, live music and performances. Inside the buildings, visitors will experience the newly reimagined galleries and a series of new temporary exhibitions, as well as specially programmed in-gallery experiences. The event is free and open to the public and co-presented with the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

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The Freer|Sackler is closed for renovation and reinstallation. The popular exhibition Turquoise Mountain: Artists Transforming Afghanistan is still on view in the International Gallery. (Enter through the Ripley Center.) Join us for our reopening celebration on October 14–15, 2017.