Alchemy 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.

Cleaning the painting

Gallery

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.

A second exhibition about the consevation project, entitled Exploring Alchemy, was held at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York from February 10 to December 16, 2017.

Alchemy in 3D

Exploring Alchemy

Gallery

Publications

L. Pensabene Buemi, F. Bettini, R. Bellucci, “Alchimia” di Jackson Pollock. Viaggio all’interno della materia (Firenze, Edifir: 2019).

R. Fontana, F. Gabrieli, C. Grazia, C. Miliani, E. Pampaloni, L. Pensabene Buemi, A. Romani, F. Rosi, and C. Stringari, Disclosing Jackson Pollock’s palette in Alchemy (1947) by non-invasive spectroscopies, Heritage Science Journal, June 16, 2016.

F. Gabrieli, F. Rosi, A. Vichi, L. Cartechini, L. Pensabene Buemi, S. G. Kazarian e C. Miliani, Revealing the Nature and Distribution of Metal Carboxylates in Jackson Pollock’s Alchemy (1947) by Micro-Attenuated Total Reflection FT-IR Spectroscopic Imaging, Analytical Chemistry, 2017, 89 (2), pp. 1283–1289. Publication Date (Web): December 19, 2016.