top of page
: Contemporary Art

Ellsworth Kelly The Courthouse Panels, John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse, Boston, MA

Ellsworth Kelly, cleaning_ed.jpeg
Kelly Rotunda, AT.JPG
Kelly Rotunda, watercolor sketch.JPG
Kelly, Rotunda, Emma cleaning green pane
Kelly Rotunda, first column, cleaning to

The John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse in Boston, MA called Rika Smith McNally & Associates when a clear, dried fluid was discovered on all 12 large painted aluminum panels installed in the East and West wings of the courthouse. The fluid was identified as sorbitan manooleate, a viscous liquid used as a surfactant and emulsifying agent in the food and cosmetics industries. Because Kelly’s panels had a satin finish, great care had to be taken in removing the material.  


In addition, the courthouse had Rika Smith McNally & Associates clean the additional 9 panels in the courthouse rotunda in situ, which had not been cleaned since the installation in 1998.  Because RSM & Associates had been the consulting conservators shortly after installation, the firm already had small actual samples of the paint used by Kelly’s studio, and these were used for test cleanings. The upper panels were 80’ up, accessed by rigging usually used for cleaning windows on the exterior of tall buildings.

Paul McCarthy, Sisters

Sculptor Paul McCarthy's Sisters, on loan to the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, required washing and waxing before it was returned to the owner. The massive sculpture, cast in multiple pieces at the Walla Walla Foundry, was in good condition but footprints, dirt, leaves, and small sticks needed to be removed and a fresh protective coating of wax applied. The work was done on site over a period of one week and required lifts and extension poles for access to the top sections. The entire sculpture was returned in excellent condition.

Tony Smith, For Marjorie, MIT campus

Tony Smith's painted steel sculpture For Marjorie, made in 1977, is over 30 feet in height and is permanently sited on the MIT campus. The sculpture was in good structural condition, but the original paint was no longer extant due to multiple repaintings. The most recent paint was the wrong color and had faded. Examination and research included paint analysis, examination of the interior, and research carried out with MIT curators and with the director of the Tony Smith Estate. After additional consultation with colleagues, the original color and correct sheen was applied with a high-performance paint system, by a specialized industrial painter experienced in working on sculpture.

Louise Nevelson, Untitled

Louise Nevelson's untitled painted wood sculpture was in good structural condition but had small isolated areas of paint flaking and paint loss, and the surface was dusty. The sculpture was gently cleaned and lifting paint set down using Beva D-8 Dispersion, a heat spatula, and a soft neoprene tool. Isolated areas of paint loss were toned with reversible color to match the original. 

Martin Boyce, Through Layers and Leaves (Closer and Closer), MIT Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research Building

Photo credit MIT List Museum

Photo credit MIT List Museum

Often publicly-sited indoor installations require only periodic gentle cleaning. Martin Boyce's Through Layers and Leaves (Closer and Closer) made in 2011 out of galvanized mild steel, epoxy paint, and acid-etched brass is loc ture had collected dust, minor spills from coffee, and a few accidental paint drips from nearby wall painting. The work was carefully dusted, and coffee and paint drips removed. The space remains very actively used as a reception area, a gathering spot, and a tour group location, requiring that the sculpture is cared for annually.

bottom of page