New technology aims to slow damage to artist Georgia O’Keeffe works
SANTA FE, N.M. — Chemical reactions are gradually darkening many of Georgia O’Keeffe’s famously vibrant paintings, and art conservation experts are hoping new digital imaging tools can help them slow the damage.
Scientific experts in art conservation from Santa Fe, N.M., and the Chicago area announced plans last week to develop advanced 3-D imaging technology to detect destructive buildup in paintings by O’Keeffe and eventually other artists in museum collections around the world.
Dale Kronkright, art conservationist at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, said the project builds on efforts that began in 2011 to monitor the preservation of O’Keeffe paintings using high-grade images from multiple sources of light. That prevented taking physical samples that might damage the works.
Destructive buildup of soap can emerge as paintings age. It happens as fats in the original oil paints combine with alkaline materials contained in pigments or drying agents.
The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum first grew alarmed about soap protrusions to its collection in 2011, when a traveling exhibit returned with visible damage that couldn’t be linked to vibrations or jostling, Kronkright said.
“Left unchecked, they will continue to grow, both grow in number and grow in size — and in damaging effect,” he said.
He estimates five paintings in the museum’s collection have obvious damage linked to soap formation, while 90 percent of all O’Keeffe paintings are susceptible.
Dale Kronkright, head of conservation at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, studies an oil painting by O’Keeffe for signs of deterioration in Santa Fe, N.M., Friday.