Dedalus Funding of Tony Smith Sculpture Conservation

Dedalus Foundation
Feb 20, 2013 4:27PM

The Dedalus Foundation is pleased to announce funding of the Detroit Institute of Art (DIA) for their conservation of Tony Smith’s Gracehoper. The large sculpture prominently adorning the north lawn of DIA, was originally conceived by Smith in 1961, and was subsequently acquired by the museum and installed in 1972. It was constructed with six pieces of quarter-inch steel welded together to create a hollow structure. Measuring 24 feet tall, 23 feet wide and 46 feet long, Gracehoper asserts itself as an imposing presence on DIA’s grounds. 

While the main structure of Gracehoper remains stable, its coat of paint has been a cause for concern in recent years. After constant exposure to environmental conditions, its original paint has begun to wear off in certain areas causing corrosion of the steel. There has also been seepage of water into the interior of the sculpture as the paint, which acted as a waterproof seal, has cracked and worn away. Furthermore, the artist’s intention has been compromised by the varied states of degradation of the paint. Smith wanted Gracehoper to have a completely uniform surface in a dull semi-gloss black color. 

DIA Conservator of Sculpture and Decorative Arts, John Steele and Associate Curator of Contemporary Art, Rebecca Hart undertook considerable investigations into the condition of Gracehoper. They invited three conservators to conduct condition reports and submit proposals for a conservation strategy. Abigail Mack of Abigail Mack Art Conservation, LLC in Red Hook, New York was chosen to oversee the project to completion.

Still subject to review by the Tony Smith Estate, the proposed treatment will involve painting the exterior with a durable, high performance coating system. Areas that exhibit flaking or rusting will be cleaned. Those places where the paint remains intact will be lightly sanded. A broken access hatch that contributed to leaking within the sculpture will also be repaired. A tie coat will then be applied to the entire surface, finished with a topcoat.

The cleaning and re-painting process is expected to take six to eight weeks. DIA promises to “honor the artist’s intention and meet aesthetic guidelines as outlined by the Tony Smith Estate.” The projected lifespan of the newly conserved sculpture should be approximately 15 to 20 years. 

Dedalus Foundation