Event Reviews: CAPS in Latin America

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Participants discussing cleaning tests, CAPS Argentina 2018. Photo Stephanie Auffret © 2018 J. Paul Getty Trust

By Stephanie Auffret and Mariana Calderón

Cleaning of Acrylic Painted Surfaces (CAPS) is a series of workshops developed by the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI), focusing on the cleaning of acrylic painted surfaces. These workshops integrate emerging scientific research (much of which springs from the GCI's Modern Paints project and from research leaders such as Tate, the Dow Chemical Company and the University of Delaware) with the latest perspectives on cleaning technology within art conservation. At this date, a colloquium and 9 workshops have been held in North America, Europe, Australia, and Latin America. Through these activities the GCI hopes to stimulate the development of problem-solving frameworks, facilitate a dialogue on the application and evaluation of new treatments, and guide future research on acrylic painted surfaces. More information, workshop materials, and instructional videos can be found on the GCI website through this link: http://www.getty.edu/conservation/our_projects/education/caps/index.html

In 2018, two CAPS workshops were offered in Latin America for the first time, taking place in Argentina October 15-19 and in Brazil October 22-26. In Buenos Aires, the workshop was offered at the Instituto de Investigaciones sobre el Patrimonio Cultural (TAREA) at the Universidad Nacional de San Martín. In Belo Horizonte, the workshop was hosted in the Conservation Science Laboratory of the Center for Conservation & Restoration of Cultural Properties (CECOR), at the Universidad Federal de Minas Gerais. The instruction team included Dr. Tom Learner, GCI Head of Science; Dr. Bronwyn Ormsby, Principal Conservation Scientist, Tate, and Chris Stavroudis, Conservator in private practice, Los Angeles. They were assisted by Alexia Soldano, Paintings conservator in private practice, Paris.

For these venues, where not all participants were fluent in English, the workshop was adjusted from its initial 3 ½ days format to 4 ½ days, and a translator was available to assist with language issues (Josefina Lopez in Argentina and Edson Motta in Brazil, both conservators). Though not every sentence was translated, regular summaries of lecture sections were provided as well as assistance during Q&A periods and practical sessions. Additionally, to facilitate comprehension of the contents taught, all the teaching materials were translated into Spanish prior to the workshops, including session outlines, technical notes, all the PowerPoints presentations, as well as video captions (there are now 13 instructional videos available, most of them captioned in both English and Spanish). The lectures were projected simultaneously in Spanish and English, which proved to be extremely helpful to the participants. Also for the first time, cleaning kits from Chris Stavroudis’s Modular Cleaning Program (MCP) were prepared for each participant (27 solutions + gels), in anticipation of how difficult it would be to find the materials used for the workshop in Latin America. All participants went home with their kits, able to apply what they had learned during the workshop once back in their labs. All these efforts were rewarded by two very successful workshops where the groups were engaged despite the initial language barrier. Participants traveled from several countries (Buenos Aires venue) and all parts of Brazil (Belo Horizonte venue), thus building a strong professional network through these workshops, which has been evidenced by continuous exchanges after the workshops and feedback from workshop evaluations filled out by the participants.

Stephanie Aufrett
Project Specialist, Collections Department
Getty Conservation Institute


The workshop ‘Cleaning of Acrylic Painted Surfaces’ (CAPS) in Argentina took place in the Instituto de Investigaciones sobre el Patrimonio Cultural (Institute of Investigation of Cultural Heritage) of the Universidad Nacional de San Martín (National University of San Martin) (IIPC-TAREA UNSAM) from 15th to 19th October 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) is one of the most respected institutions in the field of investigation and innovation in the practice of conservation throughout the world. In the field of conservation, it is well known that investigation is closely tied to practice. Combining investigation and practice is one of the top priorities of the GCI. That is why the GCI has established a series of workshops, allowing all the innovative resources obtained from investigations to be made available to institutions dedicated to art heritage conservation in different parts of the world.

The project investigating the cleaning of acrylic surfaces is part of a long-term investigative project at the GCI which is intended to lead to better practices. It is well known that the conservation of polychromatic acrylic surfaces presents a great challenge and comprises a large percentage of the materials used by Post War and contemporary artists. Conserving and cleaning acrylic surfaces is one of the greatest challenges facing modern and contemporary art collections all over the world, and Latin America is no exception.

The workshop consisted of five sessions divided into practice and theory and brought together conservators from Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Cuba. Despite being united by knowledge of the treatment of easel paintings, the group was very diverse due to each member’s distinct field of practice: historical museum conservation, contemporary art museum conservation, classical art museum conservation, as well as private practitioners, chemists, and teachers.

The first two sessions aimed to establish the chemical and physical properties of acrylic paint, as well as the main characteristics and concepts that influence its chemical behavior, aging, and the way in which grime deposits in the surface.

Afterwards, a review of historical formulations of acrylic paint was conducted, as well as its development and popularization in the world of art. In this section the most widely used commercial brands were examined and compared.

The cleaning system proposed during CAPS is closely related to the Wolbers system of aqueous cleaning. With this set as the foundation, important concepts were then introduced for cleaning acrylics such as conductivity and pH. Using a selection of samples, we had the opportunity to experiment with each theoretical concept on an acrylic surface and observe the behavior of the painting. Thus the GCI provided an invaluable experience by combining both theory and practice of conservation in the same workshop.

The aqueous cleaning system proposed during CAPS introduced us to the use of solutions which are not yet widely used in Latin America. It is important to note that this cleaning system was taught from formulation to application, with the objective that participants would then be able to prepare them from scratch. We worked with accessible materials and the learned methods, such as aqueous solutions adjusted with acetic acid and ammonium hydroxide, allowing for pH and conductivity variations. We were also taught how to control the solutions with the use of different accessible instruments.

The design of CAPS offered us the possibility to experiment with different methods of cleaning. By reviewing previous studies, it proved easier to understand why trying to use certain options over others would give better results. The cleaning practice was done on samples specifically made for CAPS. However, acrylic artworks that needed cleaning were also used. Having actual artworks enriched the experience, demonstrating what decisions have to be made when cleaning actual artworks and how different system tests are made.

This experimentation was not limited to trying different cleaning agents, but also included the exchange of diverse viewpoints, experiences, and focuses between the first-class instructors, Chris Stavroudis, Tom Learner, and Bronwyn Ormsby. As well as having their experience to clarify any doubts, it was interesting to have their different points of view on the same action or result; be it from the point of view of private practice or the criteria for cleaning pieces in a public museum, which can be dramatically different and valid at the same time.

The opportunity to formulate each one of the proposed cleaning reagents was a crucial part of CAPS. This way learning does not rely on having the final product provider at hand, but instead focuses on the raw materials that we can adapt and balance according to the necessities of each case.

The theoretical material provided us tools to reformulate and rectify any preparation that we wanted to try over a surface, which works as a continuous educational instrument even after the workshop. The same occurred with the introduction to the Modular Cleaning Program, software designed by Chris Stavroudis through which we can systematize the formulation and testing of different cleaning systems as well as document the results they have over different surfaces.

These elements, all in all, resulted in a well-structured introduction to all the possibilities of aqueous cleaning systems to treat acrylic surfaces; CAPS was not only about giving information but was more like an interactive dialogue that covered both practice and theory. As Latin American conservators, to learn about this system also introduced us to elements that sometimes are overlooked in our practice, like the necessity of reducing the use of toxic and harmful materials for both the conservators and the environment.

Thanks to the instructors, the managers at the GCI, as well as the teachers and professionals of the UNSAM, CAPS Argentina 2018 turned out to be a rewarding experience that gave us the opportunity to learn and experiment with new cleaning systems to face the conservation challenges of the future.

Mariana Calderón
Institute of Research of Cultural Heritage Workshop (IIPC TAREA)


Stephanie Auffret is a project specialist in the Collections department of the Getty Conservation Institute. She has overseen the CAPS workshops since 2016 when she joined the GCI. Her current projects also include cleaning of wooden gilded surfaces and characterization of Asian lacquer, in collaboration with the GCI Science department.

Mariana Calderón has a cum laude degree in Fine Art from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and a Masters in Conservation from the Universidad Autónoma de San Martín in Buenos Aires, Argentina, were she currently works as a conservator at the Institute of Research of Cultural Heritage Workshop (IIPC TAREA). She is currently conducting her masters research on the material characterization of European paintings in private collections in Argentina from the early 20th century.

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