Cleaning of Acrylic Painted Surfaces (CAPS) Tate Britain, July 3-6 2012 Leanne Tonkin

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<em>In July 2012, the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) and Tate organised the third in a series of events Cleaning of Acrylic Painted Surfaces (CAPS): Research into Practice workshops. Known as CAPS3, the three and half-day workshop was held at Tate Britain in London and was the first of this three workshops to be advertised openly to practising conservators. </em>
CAPS3 builds on a previous colloquium and workshop of invited participants, the first of which was held at The Getty Conservation Institute (CGI), Los Angeles, in 2009 and the second at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA, in 2011. The main aim of the workshop was to introduce participants to a range of potentially useful new cleaning products and systems that have been developed through scientific research between the GCI, Tate and the Dow Chemical Company.
Acrylic emulsion paints are highly complex paint systems making conservation treatments difficult to apply. The workshop gave a rare opportunity for practising conservators and conservation scientists to collaborate and explore current research, practical problems and possible solutions regarding the cleaning of acrylic painted surfaces. This approach, although conceptually sophisticated, really did prove that scientific research and the practical observations of conservators need to be merged on a continual basis to help inform research. Through a dedicated web site for the CAPS instructors and participants and a web-based group forum, this workshop has provided a platform for dialogues, helping to strengthen the community of conservators who have to treat acrylic painted surfaces.
The workshop consisted of presentations on current research and a significant quantity of hands-on practical sessions and applications using pre-aged and pre-soiled acrylic painted canvas pieces.
Tom Learner, Senior Conservation Scientist and Research Leader at GCI’s Modern and Contemporary Art Research Initiative introduced the group of 18 participants from various institutions from eleven countries to the workshop’s objectives. Some of the main priorities are to disseminate current ideas on the cleaning of acrylic painted surfaces from some of the strands of research and practice; encourage feedback of empirical considerations to inform further research and to build upon the importance of amalgamating scientific testing and practical experience. Mr.Learner revised the history, use, chemistry and physical properties of acrylic emulsion paints whilst comparing them to other modern, synthetic paints such as acrylic solution paints.
Particular attention was given to the role of surfactants, one of many categories of additives present in acrylic emulsion paints. Prof. Chris Stavroudis, freelance conservator from Los Angeles and developer of the Modular Cleaning Program (MCP), took the participants back to the fundamentals of liquid cleaning and the theory of solubility, eventually focussing these fundamentals on the issues of cleaning acrylic paint.
Stressing the importance of understanding pH and conductivity (ionic strength) when thinking about cleaning systems, the group was introduced to the combined use of pH and conductivity meters. An exercise examining the effects of various solutions on surface morphology was later demonstrated during the practical session.
Later in the workshop, Prof. Stavroudis introduced the participants to the Modular Cleaning Programme (MCP), a FilmMaker Pro database which enables a conservator to efficiently formulate aqueous cleaning solutions. This can be completed whilst working in-situ in the studio, making the programme incredibly versatile and applicable to cleaning acrylic paints. Each participant was provided with a MCP kit to take away to begin testing within their own studios. Bronwyn Ormsby, Senior Conservation Scientist at Tate presented recent research conducted at her institution into wet cleaning acrylic paints. The effects of wet cleaning on bulk film properties and film surface properties were also disseminated.
Dr. Ormsby also introduced new acrylic paints on the market emphasising the continual development of these contemporary paints and constant challenges they will continue to present. Ormsby introduced new cleaning systems, which have been developed by The Dow Chemical Co (DOW), the Getty Conservation Institute and Tate which aim to minimise risk whilst increasing cleaning efficacy.
The most noticeable of these systems were the series of water-in-oil micro-emulsions which participants tested for the first time.
Ormsby went on to report the on-going ethical dilemmas of removing original components of the bulk film to increase gloss and colour. Ethical considerations would certainly vary depending on context and the substrate/object. Ormsby later explained the outcomes of Tate AXA Art Modern Paints Project (TAAMPP: 2006-2009), and other case studies which have contributed to evolving the approaches to cleaning.

Richard Wolbers, Associate Professor, Winterthur, University of Delaware, Program in Art Conservation, presented recent research into cleaning and control of swelling through managing conductivity and pH. Prof. Wolbers introduced the use of micro emulsions which would help to reduce the impact of water-based systems on acrylic paints whilst providing increased cleaning efficiency.
Several micro emulsion series were discussed and the group got the opportunity to try out one of the series Wolbers is developing. These proved popular amongst the participants and looked promising.
Anticipating problems seems to be the key, according to the experiences of the four instructors and other participants on the workshop. There are no definitive answers to the problems of cleaning acrylic painted surfaces and further work needs to investigated other related problems such as the effects of conservation treatments over time and water transporting of the bulk film. Solutions are still evolving and just as importantly the contribution and observations of practising conservators are vital as they are best placed to inform research through practice. As a textile conservator dealing with a good number of acrylic-painted textiles I found this workshop has been a vital resource in searching for better ways to conserve modern painted textiles despite the seminars previously being aimed primarily at contemporary and modern fine works of art. The delivery of information was full and lengthy and often overwhelming; but this kind of pro-active approach is important if new ideas are to develop regularly rather than waiting for publications to surface. I hope researchers involved with this work will continue to realise the wider impact of their research and expand their current research opportunities.

Useful Links:
Modern Paints Research at the Getty Conservation Institute

Modular Cleaning Program (MCP)


Many thanks to the People’s History Museum, Manchester and The Anna Plowden Trust for financially supporting my attendance to the workshop.

<strong>Leanne Tonkin</strong> gained a BA in Fashion from the University of Leeds, UK (1996), following on from which she worked for 10 years as a commercial fashion designer. She graduated with MAs in the History of Textiles (2007) and Textile Conservation (2009) from the Textile Conservation Centre (formerly of the University of Southampton, UK). She continued her training with a 12-month internship (funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and organized by the Institute for Conservation) at the People’s History Museum in Manchester, where she is currently a Textile Conservator specialising in large painted textiles, involving both traditional oil paint media and modern paints.