Final Report on Degradation of "Scholar's Way" for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

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The purpose of this project is to understand the chemical processes that contribute to the degradation of “Scholar’s Way,” a trio of heavily altered basalt sculptures at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH). They were installed at the MFAH in 2020 after their creation in 2018 by South Korean artist Byung Hoon Choi. The work sits in a shallow pond in the museum’s sculpture garden, exposed to Houston’s warm humid climate and regular HCl from treatments to prevent algae growth. After less than 3 years, fragments of the sculptures have been lost, the surfaces have altered in coloration, and salt-like minerals regularly precipitate on the sides of the sculptures. The mineralogy of the sculptures and associated precipitates can inform the MFAH of how and why “Scholar’s Way”, as well as other outdoor sculptures, might be degrading, as well as what steps they can take to preserve their artwork. Visual and Near Infrared Spectroscopy, speciation modeling from the pond’s water chemistry, Electron Dispersive X-ray spectroscopy, and Electron Probe Microanalysis were used to determine 1) the chemical composition of the water features and sculptures, which reveal plausible degradation mechanisms, 2) potential ongoing mineral dissolution, and 3) the drivers of salt precipitation from the pond. These results, along with recommendations to preserve the work, have since been presented to the MFAH in the attached executive summary and technical report.

Art Conservation, Geochemistry, Mineralogy, Spectroscopy
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