Guggenheim conservation department


Since June 2013, the museum has been active in the study of the techniques and constitutive materials of Jackson Pollock’s eleven paintings held in the collection.

The works date between 1942 and 1947. In 1943 Peggy Guggenheim first recognized Pollock’s talent, and offered him a contract with her New York gallery Art of this Century. These are works of particular importance in his oeuvre, because they show the transition from a relatively traditional abstract language, to the dripping or pouring technique – namely, the dribbling of paint onto a canvas placed on the floor - which constitutes Pollock’s revolutionary contribution.

A vital part of the investigation is the analysis of the colors and binders present in Pollock’s works, which allowed an understanding of when he started experimenting with this new language, and which is essential for the development of a conservation program.

MOLAB at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection:
beginning the research project - June 2013

During this first phase, seven of the eleven works were examined with non-invasive techniques by technicians of the mobile laboratory MOLAB (CNR-ISTM, SMAArt, INO - CNR) and the Laboratory of Diagnostics of Spoleto. Costanza Miliani, coordinator of MOLAB, explained: “The MOLAB employs state of the art equipment for precise elemental (X-ray fluorescence) and molecular (Raman spectroscopy, FTIR, UV-VIS fluorescence) analysis, both punctual and imaging, of pigments and binding mediums through multispectral reflectography VIS-NIR, with the goal of identifying the artist’s technique and the state of conservation of the works.”

The initiative was made possible by the 2013-2014 EU-funded project CHARISMA (Cultural Heritage Advanced Research Infrastructures: Synergy for a Multidisciplinary Approach to Conservation/Restoration), which provided access to the most advanced scientific instrumentations and knowledge for the conservation of artworks.

Interview with Costanza Miliani, MOLAB Coordinator – September 2013

- What kind of investigations did you conduct on Pollock’s works, and with which instruments?
We conducted the first analysis campaign on a selection of seven paintings that included The Moon Woman and Alchemy, between 11 and 14 of June 2013. The MOLAB laboratory was installed in one of the exhibition rooms of the museum, (photo 1), where we carried out punctual measures with elemental and molecular techniques, and NIR imaging measures, also in UV-vis fluorescence. The UV-vis fluorescence (XRF, photo 2) determined the chemical elements present in the paint, which gave us insight into the pigments’ nature and preparation. We achieved the molecular identification of the pigments thanks to spectroscopies in infrared (FTIR, photo 3), Raman, and UV-vis in absorption (photo 4).The binders and the alteration products were characterized by FTIR spectroscopies in both medium and close range infrareds. Images in visible fluorescence induced by UV light (photo 5) revealed information on the distribution of colorants, while the multi spectral scanning reflexography (photo 6) provided information on the layering of the pictorial surfaces.

- Which scientific institutes were involved in the investigation in Venice?
The scientific analyses were conducted by the MOLAB research group of the CNR-ISTM (Istituto di Scienza e Tecnologie Molecolari) and Perugia’s SMAArt (Centro di Eccellenza Scientific Methodologies in Archeology and Art), in collaboration with CNR-INO (Istituto Nazionale di Ottica) in Florence and the Laboratorio di Diagnostica in Spoleto. At MOLAB we are equipped with twelve non-invasive portable instruments (punctual spectroscopies, and imaging methods), and we have decades of experience in the study of the materials that concern cultural heritage. In Italy, the MOLAB laboratory collaborates with central institutes, superintendencies, and numerous museums and art collections. In Europe, financed by the European Community through the project CHARISMA, MOLAB has analyzed medieval and pre-Columbian manuscripts, enameled ceramics, Old Masters paintings by Raphael, Bronzino, van Eyck, Bosch, Memling, and modern and contemporary art paintings by Cezanne, Renoir, Van Gogh, Picasso, Rothko, and others. Thanks to its multi-technical approach, MOLAB recovers information on the molecular composition and distribution of artistic materials, which is useful in the study of pictorial technique, and in assessing states of conservation. In addition, it provides indications for the development and optimization of restoration projects.

[gallery] [video] [press release]
Jackson Pollock- Alchemy   Jackson Pollock
Alchemy, 1947
Oil, aluminum, alkyd enamel paint with sand, pebbles, fibers and broken wooden sticks on canvas, 114.6 x 221.3 cm
Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice 76.2553 PG 150

at the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, Florence - December 2013

For the second phase of the project, the team chose Alchemy, one of Pollock’s most celebrated paintings—dating from 1947 and among the first all-over abstractions executed in his Long Island studio—to receive a complete analytical study and treatment at the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence. This work commenced in December 2013 when Alchemy arrived in the conservation lab where the team had access to the Opificio’s analytical equipment and renowned expertise. There, additional analysis and testing was done prior to embarking on a meticulous surface cleaning of the painting’s complex topography. Alchemy’s surface is built up of multiple layers of enamel, alkyd, and oil paint, which feature high impasto, skeins of paint, splatters and drips, in addition to a complex combination of materials, such as painted twine, sand, and pebbles embedded in the paint. The cleaning was essential to remove the considerable build-up of dirt and grime that had occurred over the years, which had compromised the painting’s aesthetic quality. The surface grime obscured the bold colors and diminished the essential three-dimensional space that Pollock achieved through his radical methods.

Jackson Pollock- mostra   "ALCHEMY" BY JACKSON POLLOCK. Discovring the Artist at Work
14 February – 14 September 2015
Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Curated by Luciano Pensabene Buemi and Roberto Bellucci

The conservation project and the exhibition - 14 February–14 September 2015

In January 2015, after over a year of pioneering research, Luciano Pensabene Buemi, conservator of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, in collaboration with Francesca Bettini, paintings restorer at the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, concluded the conservation of Jackson Pollock’s Alchemy. (more info).
Between 14 February and 14 September, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection displayed Alchemy and launched an exhibition about its conservation. Curators Pensabene Buemi and Roberto Bellucci, conservator restorer at of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, titled the exhibition "Alchemy" by Jackson Pollock. Discovering the Artist at Work. Their presentation highlighted the explosion of colors recovered after the long cleaning process, allowing a renewed reading of this celebrated painting, exceptionally exhibited without a protective screen: a rare opportunity to see close-up the complexity and three-dimensionality of its surface.

[gallery of the treatment] [gallery of the exhibition]

Visual Computing Laboratory, Alchemy in 3D, (5':11'')
Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, Così abbiamo svelato l'Alchimia di Pollock, (9':13'')

Press Releases:
Opificio delle Pietre Dure, Pollock all'Opificio delle Pietre Dure di Firenze
Opificio delle Pietre Dure, Effetto Restauro: Alchemy di Jackson Pollock
Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice. "Alchemy" by Jackson Pollock. Discovering the Artist at Work
Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, Così abbiamo svelato l'Alchimia di Pollock
campagna MOLAB    

MOLAB returns: second research campaign – March 2015

Between March 2 and 6 2015, the MOLAB returned to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection to complete the data acquired in the diagnostic campaign begun in 2013 on Jackson Pollock’s works. This second phase of the campaign was possible with the support of the European project IPERION_CH (Integrated Platform for the European Research Infrastructure): a consortium created for the dissemination and sharing of the most advanced scientific conservation techniques.

Punctual measures and multispectral imaging allowed a spectral colorimetric analysis of the surfaces, which served to identify the materials that form the pictorial layer. The non-invasive exams provided a series of perfectly superimposable, metrically correct images, also devoid of any chromatic or geometric distortion. This technique enabled comparison of images exposed to different wavelengths, and to visualize clearly their results, without having to enter data and/or insert images.

Jackson Pollock- Two   Jackson Pollock
Two, 1943–45
Oil on canvas, 193 x 110 cm
Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice 76.2553 PG 143

Two’s arrival at the Opificio - December 2013

Pollock began working on Two in 1943, but only concluded it in 1945 on the occasion of his second solo show at Peggy Guggenheim’s New York gallery, Art of This Century. The two figures visible on the canvas reveal the stylistic influence of both Picasso and Native American tribal painting. Two is one of Pollock’s last “figurative” works, which allows us to discern the cultural references that led him towards a subsequent stage of abstraction.

As part of the POLLOCK PROJECT, Two was restored by Luciano Pensabene Buemi, conservator of the Collection, with the scientific input of the laboratories at the Opificio delle Pietre, and the INO of the Istituto CNR Nazionale di Ottica in Florence. As in Alchemy’s conservation project, preliminary investigations were fundamental in devising the conservation and cleaning methods. The removal of dust and inconsistent deposits revealed how Pollock not only portrayed two figures, but how he applied colors in “couples:” two whites, two greens, two blacks, two greys, dark orange-pink, each of a warmer and a cooler shade [img].

Restoration project with NANORESTART - 2015-2016

Two’s cleaning employed sophisticated water based chemical systems (chemical gels) created using nanoscientific technologies. These were developed by the Consorzio universitario CSGI-Università di Firenze, as part of the European project NANORESTART (NANOmaterials for the REStoration of works of ART), funded by the European Commission. The chemical gels that were used belong to a specific category constituted by two mutually interpenetrative polymers, which are 90% made of water. They do not leave any residue on the artwork, and allow a fast and controlled cleaning process (minimizing contact with the pictorial surface, and the color of the solvent), safe for both the artwork and the conservators, being entirely nontoxic and respectful of the environment. These systems constitute the most advanced technologies available today for the cleaning of paintings.

The rediscovery of Two’s chromatic richness, with the tonal alternations between its color couples, was on view in From Kandinsky to Pollock. The Art of the Guggenheim Collections, at Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, 19 March – 24 July 2016.

photo: Sergio Martucci