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Science and Paper: Conserving a Drypoint by Michael Heizer

The issue of preservation arises frequently in discussions of land art and monumental outdoor sculpture, the type of work for which Michael Heizer is best known. For his Scrap Metal Drypoints, Heizer selected salvaged zinc and aluminum plates scarred with appealing scrapes, scratches, marks of oxidation, and corrosion—all dramatic evidence of environmental effects. In preparation for exhibition, conservators and curators, in consultation with the artist, elected to restore the clarity of one of the prints by mitigating the distracting staining and discoloration visible in the paper support. The challenge of handling and maneuvering the eight-foot-long print—particularly when swollen with water—requires seamless coordination. Over a period of three days, the monumental print was bathed in calcified water in a custom-built sink, removing much of the paper’s general discoloration. Once the print was lifted from the bath and dried under blotters, the conservators examined the remaining stains and selectively treated them by brushing and spraying weak solutions of bleach. A final bath removed all remaining chemical solutions from the paper. After a long period of drying, the print was hinged and framed for display in the exhibit The Serial Impulse at Gemini G.E.L.