If you think creating masterful pieces of art is difficult, try cleaning them. One of Jackson Pollock’s premier paintings, 1950’s Number 32, is the subject of a new, innovative cleaning technique. As it advances in age—it turns 66 this year!—the painting has acquired a yellowish tone where it should be white. Luckily, Otto Hubacek, director of restoration at the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, where the painting is currently housed, thinks he has a smart way to return the painting to its original glory.
Hubacek consulted with several international colleagues to come up with the innovative system. A special device will blast particles of wheat starch onto the canvas, and then the starch will have to be carefully removed with a tiny brush attached to a vacuum cleaner. But if it sounds easy (which it isn’t), there’s more to it—the cleaner must be careful not to get the wheat starch on the black paint, as that could damage or remove it. I think I’ll keep my day job, thank you.
Because the painting itself is quite large—2.69m x 4.57m—cleaning it could take quite a bit of time. If all goes according to plan, the painting will be complete in 200-300 hours. Hubacek was inspired to create the wheat starch device by cleaning work done on paper. He built the device himself, and plans to present it and his ideas to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
In Hubacek’s careful analysis of Number 32, he has also discovered footprints and coffee stains, both put there by the artist himself. But Hubacek is not going to remove those from the painting, insisting that these “imperfections,” if they can be called that, are part of the work and belong right where they are.
Curious visitors will be able to see the effects of the restoration process soon, as another famous Pollock piece, Mural, is freshly renovated using the wheat starch process and is currently on exhibit at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle.