Like a second skin – Wrapping sculptures with a delicate matte surface

Christina Robens, Gerda Kaltenbruner, Karin Steiner; Institute of Conservation-Restoration, Modern and Contemporary Art, Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna Austria

Based on the widely used packing strategy of wrapping Katharina Fritsch’s indoor sculptures with commercial Clingwrap, my diploma thesis dealt with the protective function of this “second skin” and, at the same time, with the scientific exploration of surface phenomena concerning the matte coating.
The research included a material analysis and the mechanical testing of Clingwrap PE-foil and, beyond that, the examination and simulation of an alteration phenomenon on matte monochrome surfaces.
For this purpose, standardized test samples were produced, imitating the spray-painted surfaces of indoor sculptures by the artist Katharina Fritsch in respect of their materiality and their visual appearance.
The carrier material of the standardized test samples is made out of gypsum with an acrylic based coating following the artist’s recipes for paint layers. The coating owes its matte appearance to a comparably low amount of binding media and to a special method of spray-application. Three different colors used by the artist were chosen with the intention of examining different sensitivities of these color applications.
In addition to the material analysis of various Clingwrap PE-foils, pressure and friction tests were conducted so as to simulate the mechanical stress and load arising during wrapping, handling, and transport.
These tests were carried out in cooperation with the Department of Material Science and Technology at the University of Technology Vienna by adapting standardized testing equipment.
In a second step, test bodies with mock-up paint surfaces covered with Clingwrap PE-foil were exposed to pressure and friction. A third test series was designed to test the wrapped surface in combination with a variety of materials used for transport and handling, such as cotton fabric, latex foil, etc.
As a result, the pressure and friction tests on the mock-up surface successfully replicated the typical surface damages detected on the original sculptures by Katharina Fritsch. These changes in appearance are visible to the naked eye and specifically consist of a decreasing matt-appearance and decreasing color hue.
To further characterize these alteration phenomena on a microscopic level, the color status of the mock-up surfaces was captured by the use of spectrometric methods before and after testing.
Furthermore, the development of the damage phenomena on the mock-up surfaces was localized and interpreted by the use of a 3D digital microscope and analyzed by a raster electron microscope in close cooperation with the Institute of Chemical Technologies and Analytics at the University of Technology Vienna and the Institute of Arts and Technology/Conservation Sciences at the University of Applied Arts Vienna.
In conclusion, material recommendations could be derived for safer strategies of handling and packing this specific type of sculpture.