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Lesson 3 : Taking Care of Art / Part 1: Threatened Treasures


When artworks are installed in public places, many people see them everyday, but they are more vulnerable to a variety of threats. Pigeon droppings are a challenge for those committed to taking care of Luis Jiménez' Alligator sculpture in El Paso.

A museum curator, who is familiar with maintaining Jiménez' sculptures in El Paso, shares her views about ways to take care of a cast of the Southwest Pieta on the campus of Arizona State University.

The natural environment can be a major factor affecting the condition of outdoor sculpture. The summer temperatures in Albuquerque can be quite high. Yet in the winter the sculpture can be topped with snow.

The second cast of the Southwest Pieta is installed at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, near Phoenix, in the Sonoran Desert. Temperatures rise above 100 degrees most summer days and also through much of the spring and fall.

Most of the year the humidity in the Phoenix area is extremely low. Tempe gets only about seven inches of rain a year. Although it very seldom freezes, water can work its way into any tiny crack in the surface of the sculpture.

The greater Phoenix area (known locally as the Valley of the Sun) has experienced tremendous growth in the last few decades. Along with growth has come urban sprawl and many, many cars and trucks. In spite of efforts to control air pollution, temperature inversions can cause pollutants to collect in the Valley. Such pollution is not only unhealthy for humans, it can damage outdoor public art, such as the Southwest Pieta.

Both people and nature can threaten treasures we care about.

Continue to part 2