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Aspects and problems of the restoration of contemporary artworks

The 20th century saw a profound transformation of artistic language and practice. New materials were introduced (from the industrial sphere) which allowed artists to experiment with new techniques and obtain novel material effects...


Synthetic binders allowed colours to be produced which dried quickly, which could be applied directly onto the canvas and superimposed without damaging the layers beneath. Their extreme versatility gave rise to productions which varied considerably in their consistency and material rendition, with innovative results, but they also yielded results analogous to those obtained using traditional media.
The acknowledgement of the importance of synthetic binders is becoming more and more crucial, since problems of conservation here are completely different in nature from those associated with traditional materials, and specific methods of intervention are required.
Simple visual analysis does not always succeed in revealing the elements that permit their proper identification.
The restoration of a group of works created by Lucio Fontana in the early nineteen sixties, provides an opportunity for a more in-depth examination of this theme.
The pictorial productions, which had always been identified as oil-based, revealed characteristics and categories of ageing which did not appear consistent with oil-based materials. Research showed that the colours were not exclusively oil-based but also acrylic-based, and it provided the crucial elements to fine-tune specific methodologies for intervention.
However, it is not always enough to simply  know the chemical nature of the binder because different properties and behaviours may apply, depending on the nature of the industrial formulation in question.
Take the example of an external mural painting produced by Guttuso using acrylic colours. Knowledge of the technique used to execute the work which is not, however, supported by adequate experience of the problems connected with the technique, has actually led to inadequate interventions, which aggravated even further the deterioration of the painting.

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