During the summer of 2007, Louise Nevelson’s monumental sculpture Bicentennial Dawn from Philadelphia was in Oberlin at the McKay Lodge, Inc. sculpture conservation facilities for a complete recoating project due to massive failure of its previous coatings. The sculpture had been completely recoated once before with subsequent local retouching. That last recoating was peeling off the wood in large sheets.
Bicentennial Dawn was commissioned in 1976 for the Green/Bryne Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Philadelphia. The commission was made under the Art-in-Architecture Program of the U.S. General Services Administration. McKay Lodge Art Conservation, Inc. provides the art conservation services for that collection located throughout the United States. The conservation of this sculpture is just one of many large art conservation projects of modern sculpture handled by the art conservation laboratory each year.
The three part sculpture stands 16 feet tall and occupies a floor space of 30 feet by 90 feet. It is exhibited in its own room and is visible from the plaza. The sculpture is constructed of several hundred pieces of wood which disassemble into nearly one hundred sub-assemblies. Working with Artex Fine Arts Services and conservator Virginia Naude of Norton Art Conservation in Philadelphia, McKay Lodge, Inc. disassembled and relocated the sculpture to Oberlin for the restoration. There, all work was performed by McKay Lodge, Inc. art conservators and conservation assistants.
Original color research and paint samples taken from the sculpture enabled the conservators to reformulate the original cream white color. All previous coatings had to be removed to clean wood to assure that new coatings would endure. All removal of coatings was accomplished by heat guns to soften the oil based primer. The complex shapes presented a tremendous amount of surface area to clean.
The sculpture was reinstalled to coincide with (but missing the opening) of the Jewish Museum’s retrospective exhibition The Sculpture of Louise Nevelson: Constructing a Legend, May 05, 2007 – September 16, 2007.