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While stainless steel outdoor sculpture does not rust like weathering steel or mild steel, it still has issues with corrosion. Stainless steel outdoor sculpture therefore still requires regular conservation maintenance and treatment. One such sculpture is Ainsa I, 2013 by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa located at the front entrance of Bauer Hall on the Washington University in St. Louis Campus. The artwork features a contemplative figure hugging its knees who sits on a diamond-shaped limestone slab. The figure consists of numbers and letters from different languages which are twisted to form the shape of a person. It is indicative of other works by Plensa.

McKay Lodge Conservation staff has experience in the conservation treatment of stainless steel outdoor sculpture and recently completed a treatment for a similar Jaume Plensa sculpture, Tale Teller VI. Anisa I is situated outdoors, and St. Louis experiences hot, humid summers and cold winters, complete with thunderstorms, wind, rain, hail, snow, and ice. Despite the weather conditions, the sculpture is well executed and maintained so it is in good condition, but some minor areas of corrosion requiring treatment of the stainless steel outdoor sculpture were observed by a McKay Lodge Conservation conservator during a recent assessment.

For treatment, there were several things to consider: only certain areas were affected by the corrosion, the surface had a media-blasted matte finish, and the sculpture is placed on a porous limestone slab. Conservator of Objects and Sculpture, Christina L. Simms, first sprayed the limestone slab and surrounding plaza with water. This prevents the subsequent acid treatment from adversely affecting non-treatment areas. She then applied a mild acidic treatment with conditioning pads to the areas of corrosion. The acid was allowed to dwell for several minutes then cleared from the surface with water. This process was repeated in more heavily corroded areas as needed. The treatment was measured and gentle in order to preserve the media-blasted surface.

The before treatment images reveal areas of minor, but unsightly, corrosion which impacted the interior and exterior of the sculpture. After the mild acid treatment, the iron oxide or rust diminished in appearance, leaving the textured metal surface unhindered.

Jaume Plensa is an internationally recognized artist with work exhibited in museums, galleries, and cultural institutions in the United States, Europe, and Asia. He has been a teacher at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris and regularly cooperates with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago as a guest professor. Though he has lived in other areas of Europe, he currently resides in Barcelona, where he was born in 1955, and remains active in the global art community.

The stainless steel outdoor sculpture, Ainsa I, by artist Plensa is just one work of art in a growing collection at the Washington University in St. Louis. The University was founded in 1853, becoming a world leader in research, teaching, patient care, and service to society. The University also has a growing number of public artworks as part of the Washington University’s Art on Campus program which commissions site-specific art installation in conjunction with new construction. The Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum is cultivating this collection of public works by renown artists like Plensa.

If you cannot make it to the campus anytime soon, check out this brochure of the Art On Campus at Washington University in St. Louis.

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