Glass Reinforced Polymers (GRP) in Art: Conservation of Yvonne Domenge’s Flores Móviles sculptures

Author: Sasha Drosdick (UCL Qatar Master’s Thesis)

Advisor: Dr. Stavroula Golfomitsou
In 2009, seeking public art for their sprawling multi-institutional campus called Education City, Qatar Foundation purchased two sculptures, entitled Flores Móviles, by the Mexican artist Yvonne Domenge. The glass-reinforced polymer sculptures each rolled on three metal casters and were installed in Georgetown University’s VIP courtyard. Qatar’s harsh weather conditions rapidly deteriorated the works, and in 2016, Qatar Foundation authorized their relocation to University College London’s conservation laboratory for treatment. Originally possessing a high-gloss surface, the sculptures’ exposure to high temperatures, humidity, ultraviolet radiation, and pollution levels, combined with their common misinterpretation as chairs, resulted in staining, extensive cracking, blistering and delamination of both the paint and resin. Analysis using optical microscopy, Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy with Attenuated Total Reflectance, X-ray Fluorescence, and Scanning Electroscope Microscopy using Energy Dispersive Spectroscopy revealed a complex stratigraphy of different materials including gypsum, nitrocellulose alkyd resins, and different layers of polyurethane paint. Lead chromate and antimony were present in several layers, which is not considered common for an artwork produced in 2005. The identification of the constituent materials of Flores Móviles was necessary to understand the sculptures’ construction and degradation, which informed decisions related to treatments.
The aim of the treatment was twofold: to stabilize deterioration and to improve the aesthetic appearance of the sculptures. Materials used to stabilize the surface and restore the sculptures’ visual appeal were chosen based on their compatibility with the underlying layers. This limited the range of products that could be used for consolidation, infilling, and coating, and it reduced the possibility for performing a reversible treatment. Choosing the appropriate treatment foregrounds larger issues concerning GRP sculptures, like how a sculpture’s function and classification dictate wildly divergent conservation treatments. The range of materials used to manufacture and later touch-up the Flores led to experimentation with a wide variety of traditional and nontraditional materials and conservation methods: From conservation-grade epoxies and acrylics, to automotive and home-improvement spackles/epoxies, to two-part polyurethane yacht paints.