Art is now more frequently being displayed and enjoyed both inside and outside of the home. If you invest in outdoor sculpture, developing a solid plan for protecting art that is constantly exposed to the elements should be a priority.
However, it can be challenging to find an ideal balance between the sculpture and outdoor conditions. Key items to consider include construction, materials of the object, location and maintenance of the space itself, professional installation, conservation and maintenance. More conventional materials like stone and bronze have traditionally dominated sculpture gardens, but collectors can now purchase works made from a spectrum of substances newly available in the past century, or even just the past few decades, which require unique care. These include neon tubing, plastics, fiberglass, rubber, and electronic components. Great consideration must be taken for both traditional and modern materials in order to address changing climate conditions, surrounding structures, lifestyle, traffic patterns, and landscape topography.
The Getty Conservation Institute notes that consistent maintenance is key in protecting the works. Several recommendations fall under the maintenance umbrella:
- Annual contracts with a conservator for inspections should be set in place
- Landscapers and irrigation specialists should be aware of the need to hand trim vegetation and redirect sprinklers to avoid damage
- A professional restorer should regularly check if pieces require cleaning, waxing, etc., and examine the overall condition
- Professional installers who are versed in weight distribution and have the equipment needed to move and secure large and heavy outdoor sculptures should be used
- Structural surveys and proper base or support construction should be provided by a professional engineer for installation
And after a proper maintenance schedule is in place, it is also a good idea to create a plan to further protect or even evacuate the collection if necessary to avoid extreme weather conditions. This is an appropriate topic as we are in the middle of hurricane season (June 1 – November 30).
Ideas about what is considered damage in materials exposed to the elements has morphed throughout the years as conservation knowledge and techniques have advanced. For example, with bronze, one of the more common mediums used in sculpture, damage to the original delicate patina (thin layer) finish was rarely regarded as a problem. It was a common misconception that the verdigris (a generic term for a greenish variety of deterioration effects) was intentional, but The Getty Conservation Institute noted that as recently as the 1970s scientists and conservators studying bronze corrosion switched terminology from aged patina to corroded surfaces.1
Outdoor sculpture provides a distinctive experience and creates a new type of curated space for museum quality works. With a coordinated plan for preservation and upkeep, they can be enjoyed for many years.
Maggie Reynolds is Senior Fine Art and Collections Specialist for Chubb Personal Risk Services. She is based in Houston, Texas.