Conservation push recognised with top award

3 Feb 2014

Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) PhD student Gillian Osmond is part of an international art conservation project recognised with a top Australian materials award.

The project won the 2013 Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Materials award for Outstanding Research in the Field of Material Conservation.

Research institutions and museums from Australia, the US, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and the UK are investigating deterioration in twentieth century artworks and challenging aspects of modern materials and practices.

As part of an Australian Research Council Linkage Project, Ms Osmond has a focus on the emerging problem of so-called “zinc soap” formation in paintings.

When oil-based paint containing zinc oxide is used in artworks, a reaction begins and unsightly protrusions or cracking can cause severe damage.

Ms Osmond said project researchers aimed to understand all aspects of the process, so work covered analysis of affected paintings, art history, paint technology and even archival studies.

“Conservation science in Australia is underdeveloped and poorly resourced at museum level in comparison to institutions in the UK, north America and parts of Europe,” she said.

“The award is important recognition for a ground breaking collaborative research project unique in its scale among Australia’s conservation community.”

Ms Osmond is combining her work as Queensland Art Gallery conservator with microstructural analysis conducted as part of her PhD at the Centre for Microscopy and Microanalysis, based at AIBN.

CMM director and AIBN Professor John Drennan said zinc soap deterioration had been found in paintings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including works from Vincent van Gogh, Joan Miró and Sidney Nolan.

Aspects of Ms Osmond’s research involve the AIBN polymer research group of Professor Michael Monteiro and experiments conducted at the Australian Synchrotron using infrared spectroscopy.

Australian research partners include the Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation and School of Chemistry at the University of Melbourne, CMM and The University of Queensland’s School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering.

Conservators from Queensland Art Gallery, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the National Gallery of VictoriaArtlab Australia and the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery have also been involved.

International partner investigators come from the Getty Conservation Institute, US; the National Art Gallery of Malaysia; JB Vargas Museum at the University of the PhilippinesSilpakorn University and SEAMEO-SPAFA Regional Centre for Archaeology and Fine Art in Thailand; and Tate, UK.