Steps away from busy Second Avenue in downtown Seattle, Washington, one can find a natural reprieve on the plaza of the Henry M. Jackson Federal Building. This “contemplative retreat” as described by the artist Isamu Noguchi is an outdoor sculpture featuring five granite monoliths ranging from just over one foot to over eight feet in height. These stones do not appear to have any particular arrangement, yet together they comprise Landscape in Time, 1975 by renown sculptor Noguchi. Though a later building expansion has interrupted the original perimeter of the artwork, the piece still functions as an escape from the beeping cars, wailing sirens, bustling pedestrians, and other sounds of the surrounding cityscape. The sculpture was also in need of a stone conservation treatment.
Granite is seemingly a timeless material. However, stone is prone to damage and wear, soiling and pollutants, attack from biological growth, and of course, due the very public location of the sculpture- vandalism. The varying heights of the sculptures in particular make the piece tempting for climbing the taller elements to grinding skateboards and bikes on the lower elements. Building security actively deters adverse public interaction with Landscape in Time, but traces of pink and red paint likely transferred from a bike can be found on the surface of the stone outdoor sculpture. A few light gray accretions, probably deteriorated chewing gum, were also found stuck on lower areas of the granite components.
Other condition issues include significant surface soiling, bird droppings and green biological growth on the surface. North facing sides of the stone had a greater amount of moss. In performing outdoor sculpture conservation, particularly outdoor sculpture conservation in Seattle, the presence of biogrowth on the stone elements is expected. The Pacific Northwest climate is cool and wet, with mild winters, producing an environment that is ideal for the growth of lichen and moss. Seattle is thus, aptly nick-named the “Emerald City”.
For the conservation treatment of the outdoor sculpture in Seattle, Conservator of Objects and Sculpture Christina L. Simms traveled to Washington state. First, gum and any other accretions were removed with hand tools followed by reducing residue with mineral spirits. The soiling and biological growth required an art conservation treatment cocktail of biocide, water, nylon bristle brushes, time and muscle. An initial rinse was completed to remove surface debris with water at regular hose pressure, and then a cleaning solution was applied in a test area with a spray application. The area was gently scrubbed with a rigid nylon brush and allowed to dwell, then rinsed again with water. The test area yielded great results, removing nearly all of the disfiguring green material which shrouded the warm-colored granite stone beneath. The solution was then applied judiciously to the other granite elements, ensuring the cleaning agent did not dry on the surface, and then rinsed with water. This process was repeated as needed until gradually the granite elements no longer were covered by green biological growth.
After treatment, the soiling on the surface was greatly reduced as well as paint transfers and residues from accretions. In a sense, after the outdoor sculpture conservation treatment of the Seattle artwork, Landscape in Time by Noguchi returned to its “natural” appearance.
Isamu Noguchi was a Japanese-American artist with a career that began in the 1920s and spanned nearly six decades. He initially began his college years as pre-medicine student, soon leaving University to become an academic sculptor. Noguchi became one of the most critically acclaimed artists of the twentieth century. He has works of art spanning the globe from New York City, where his museum is today on Long Island to Hakkaido Island of Japan with many of his public works of art in between.