The NANORESTART project (NANOmaterials for the RESToration of works of ART) is an international initiative funded by the European Commission.

The synthesis of new nanomaterials with tailored functionalization and the formulation of complex systems for the conservation of modern and contemporary art were the main and the most challenging goals of the project.

The project focused on:

  • The development of new tools for controlled cleaning;
  • The stabilization of canvases and painted layers using cellulose and nanocellulose derivatives combined with nanoparticles, among others;
  • The strengthening of the constituent materials of the work of art and the protection of surfaces;
  • The development of nanostructured substrates and sensors for more accurate and sensitive chemical analysis.

The project (2015–2018) promoted numerous partnerships between chemical industries, museums and other research organizations (twenty-seven collaborations in twelve countries). The Peggy Guggenheim Collection focused on the Work Package 2: New tools for cleaning.

The research was conducted by Luciano Pensabene Buemi, Conservator at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, and Maria Laura Petruzzellis, Conservator of painting and materials of contemporary art. It focused on specific issues in conservation of modern and contemporary paintings, such as the removal of dust and dirt from unvarnished paintings, and the removal of unauthentic varnishes from paint surfaces.

During the accurate experimentation, tests were conducted on mock-up samples reproducing the selected case studies from the works in the museum’s collection: Two (1943–45) and Eyes in the Heat (1946–47) by Jackson Pollock; The Studio (1928) by Pablo Picasso; and The Gentle Afternoon (1916) by Giorgio de Chirico.

The long and accurate trial phase made possible determining the appropriate cleaning method. The new PVA-based hydrogels were developed by CSGI (Center for Colloids and Surface Science) and have been validated.

Thanks to such positive results, two masterpieces by Jackson Pollock were cleaned using PVA-based hydrogels. This was part of a larger conservation program that started in 2013, the “Pollock Project,” which focuses on conservation of the eleven works by Pollock in the museum’s collection.

Gels were named “Nanorestore Peggy Gels and Gums” after the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, where they were first used for the confinement of aqueous solutions and the removal of dust and dirt from painted surfaces.

Non-invasive scientific analyses performed before and after the cleaning treatment demonstrated the new tools efficacy and their gentle, selective and controlled action.

Furthermore, the project investigated the possibility of unauthentic varnish removal by the combined application of such “Peggy Gels” with micro-emulsions o/w. The positive results of the trials allowed for the application of the nano-structured tools on The Studio by Picasso.

The later phase of the project focused on developing a new group of materials: Organogels. These were paired with organic solvents to remove natural and synthetic varnishes, as confirmed by both laboratory trials and tests performed on the last case study: The Gentle Afternoon by de Chirico. The study is still continuing thanks to the collaboration between the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and the CSGI and is opening further horizons in the cleaning of modern and contemporary paintings.