Sculpture Conservation, Public Art Conservation, Calder Mobile conservation:
A high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) vacuum, extension pole, dust mask, and soft knit cloth seem unlikely items to pack for a trip to the airport, but they are exactly the supplies necessary to clean a large, hanging sculpture. The sculpture in question is Pittsburgh, 1958 by Alexander Calder, an internationally renowned artist, known especially for his large hanging mobiles. The sculpture is located in the Greater Pittsburgh International Airport.
It features large paddle-like forms which are white in color with slender black metal rods connecting them. The structure gracefully rotates with air currents, activating an otherwise static sculpture. Pittsburgh was originally created for the 1958 Bicentennial International Exhibition of Contemporary Art which was held at the Carnegie Museum of Art. There it won first prize before it was purchased by G. David Thompson who donated it to Allegheny County. Nearly a year later, the County hung the mobile in the airside terminal of the airport.
Currently, it hangs high above travelers in the main rotunda of the Pittsburgh International Airport, making a few changes and taking a few vacations between now and its original installation. As one might imagine the highly trafficked area tends to generate a great deal of dust and debris, and while the airport staff regularly maintains and cleans the area below the sculpture, Pittsburgh is arguably a little out of reach for everyday maintenance.
McKay Lodge Conservation Laboratory conservation staff though based just outside of the greater Cleveland area, routinely travel often to perform sculpture maintenance and sculpture conservation treatments throughout the United States and its territories. The sculpture conservation treatments might be as close as bronze sculpture maintenance in Cleveland, Ohio or as far as conservation treatments in the United States Virgin Islands or Hawaii. No sculpture is hung too high or installed too far for the McKay Lodge Conservation team, including Pittsburgh by artist Alexander Calder.
Objects Conservator Christina L. Simms came equipped with fall protection and sculpture conservation maintenance supplies for such a task. Night work was required since the airport is such a busy place. Working from a lift Conservator Simms cleared the surface of the paddles, rods, and wires, and while dusting might sound easy, the painted surfaces are still delicate requiring a gentle touch. Since the sculpture also sways with slight air currents in the terminal, making sure the lift does not contact the sculpture is another critical concern.
Before the treatment, images reveal a surface that is compromised with dust and debris. And while the airport has taken steps to reduce the impact of birds in the terminal, some bird droppings were present on the sculpture. For the latter areas, wet cleaning was necessary with a moistened soft microfiber cloth. After treatment, dust and surface debris were cleared creating a uniform surface.
If you are flying out or into Pittsburgh International Airport be sure to glance upward in the terminal to admire Pittsburgh by Alexander Calder. A special thanks to the staff of the Pittsburgh International Airport for their assistance in this project.