Science for Art

E-Separation Solutions

The city of New Orleans has a rich history of merging French and American art, from the iconic fleur-de-lis to the works of Edgar Degas. Unfortunately, sometimes art, whether it's a painting, book, or some other medium, gets damaged due to unforeseen disasters. It is the job of the scientist to pursue the restoration of such precious objet d'art. These types of art recovery efforts were described in the session "Science for Art" at Pittcon 2008.

The city of New Orleans has a rich history of merging French and American art, from the iconic fleur-de-lis to the works of Edgar Degas. Unfortunately, sometimes art, whether it’s a painting, book, or some other medium, gets damaged due to unforeseen disasters. It is the job of the scientist to pursue the restoration of such precious objet d'art. These types of art recovery efforts were described in the session "Science for Art" at Pittcon 2008.

Starting off the session was Norbert S. Baer from New York University, who expounded upon the role of the chemist in disaster response and recovery, specifically the recovery efforts of damaged books. Speaking of books that had suffered extensive water damage, Baer described the former futile methods of their revival. "You'd see feeble attempts at drying them out," Baer said. "Sometimes you end up simply discarding the material." However, new techniques have made it easier to attempt recovery, such as freezing the texts, freeze-drying them, then subjecting them to gamma irradiation, ozone treatment, and other forms of decontamination.

Next to speak was Narayan Khandekar from Harvard University, who discussed attempts to authenticate three previously undiscovered Jackson Pollock paintings. The paintings were analyzed at the Harvard University Art Museums using Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), pyrolysis gas chromatography mass spectrometry (Py-GC-MS), Raman spectroscopy, Scanning electron microscopy energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (SEM/EDX) and laser desorption ionization time of flight mass spectrometry (LDI-MS-TOF) to determine the age and composition of the binding media and pigments that make up the paintings. In the end, the paintings were found to contain materials unavailable prior to 1956.

Remaining speakers included Rene E. Van Grieken from University of Antwerp, who gave a presentation on analytical chemistry playing a key role in cultural heritage research, and the use of X-ray spectrometry to study techniques, identify forgeries, and to prepare for optimal restorations. Hannelore Roemich from New York University then discussed computed micro X-ray tomography (mCT) being used for detecting degradation layers on archaeological glasses by using a desktop tomography scanner. To close out the session, Robert J. Koestler of the Smithsonian Institution explained the new development of using oxygen-free environments to stem insect and microbial infestation of museum objects.