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  • Writer's pictureMark Erdmann

Painted Outdoor Sculpture

Outdoor sculpture represents a unique challenge for the art conservator and requires a somewhat different approach to preservation and conservation than the typical museum artifact. Conservation of indoor art and historic artifacts has as one of its core ethics, the preservation of original materials and evidence of the artist's personal touch such as brush strokes or hammer marks. However, artworks displayed outdoors are subject to the extremes of temperature, light, wind and precipitation, as well as interaction from humans and animals. Under these conditions, paint coatings cannot be expected to be maintained and preserved indefinitely. Paint coatings are considered to have a finite lifespan and be replaced periodically.

The sculpture below is shown having just been painted with a low gloss fluoropolymer over an epoxy primer.

The length of time a coating can last depends on the paint technology and on the design of the object, the construction details, and the location of the artwork. Lifespan can be as short as a couple years and as long as 2-3 decades. Some examples include the following (taken from KTA Inc,, coatings and corrosion engineering and inspection specialists.)

  • Alkyd with hand power tool surface prep- 2-6 years

  • Waterborn acrylic with hand power tool surface prep - 5-12 years

  • Epoxy zinc primer with polyurethane top coat with abrasive blasting surface prep - 12-24 years

  • Epoxy zinc primer with fluorinated polyurethane with abrasive blasting surface prep- 17-30 years

The sculpture below was prepped by hand and power tools to remove any loose paint and feather out the peeling areas, creating a smooth surface to paint over.

Long duration lifespans can appear very favorable on paper, but the coatings may incur installation and material costs many times more than those of more standard coatings. High performance coatings can also be more difficult to repair and touch up in the field, requiring aggressive paint removal and surface prep techniques.

The cost of repainting an outdoor sculpture should be included in planning and budgeting, and be based on the type of paint system used.

Often, contemporary sculptors have detailed specifications about the color and gloss of the artwork. Before having a sculpture in your collection repainted, make sure you contact the artist to find out what these specifications are. If the artwork was made by a fabricator, it may be that the fabricator has records or even color samples of the original paint.

Mark Erdmann has repainted sculptures by Alexander Calder, Tony Smith, David E. Davis, Irving Greene, and Claes Oldenburg. Contact Erdmann Art Conservation to discuss the conservation of your painted outdoor sculpture.

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