European Partnership Project – NANORESTART: Nanomaterials for the restoration of works of art

Luigi Galimberti, Collection Care Research Manager at Tate, and ICOM UK member, presented the NANORESTART project at the ICOM UK AGM in September this year.  This article gives an overview of the european-funded research conservation project that Tate is a partner in.

The challenges brought by the lack of established conservation methodologies that can safely tackle the often fast degradation of materials used by contemporary artists are at the heart of the NANORESTART project.

The project aims to develop innovative conservation techniques that can ensure the long- term protection and security of cultural heritage via the use of new poly-functional nanomaterials, that are safe by design for both the environment and users.

The NANORESTART project team

NANORESTART is a collaboration between 27 partner organisations in 12 countries, including universities, research institutions, industrial partners, museums, private conservators and governmental bodies. The project is led by Prof Piero Baglioni, Director of the Centre for Colloid and Surface Science – CSGI at the University of Florence, Italy.

Tate’s contribution to the project involves research on the assessment and validation of the new tools for cleaning. This involved the systematic and rigorous comparative assessment of various cleaning systems, within the context of the conservation treatment of three selected case study works of art from Tate’s collection. At the ICOM UK 2018 General Assembly in London on 26 September 2018, I presented the second case study, i.e. the treatment of Roy Lichtenstein’s 1963 painting Whaam!.

Whaam! is one of the most popular works at Tate and has been on almost constant display since it was acquired in 1966. The materials used to create the painting are challenging for conservators, because the painted surface is either mechanically, solvent or water sensitive (or all three!), which has meant that traditional approaches carried too much risk to the work of art. Our conservation team (Painting Conservator Rachel Barker, Principal Conservation Scientist Dr Bronwyn Ormsby and NANORESTART post-doctoral researcher Dr Angelica Bartoletti) spent months trialling. tailoring and evaluating different techniques, first on mock-ups created by following the painting construction and, only when the results were deemed optimal, on the artwork.

After all the trials were completed, the Peggy 6 hydrogels developed by CSGI were chosen as the optimal material for the treatment, which facilitated the surface cleaning of Whaam!  in a safe and controlled way, for the very first time in the painting’s history. The short film Conserving Whaam! illustrates the journey of the painting from our conservation studio to Tate Liverpool, when the newly conserved painting was returned to display earlier this year.

Both Roy Lichtenstein’s Whaam! and Eva Hesse’s Addendum, which was also treated as part of the project, can now be enjoyed by the public as part of the free collection display at Tate Modern.

The NANORESART project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 646063.