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Contemporary artworks created on photosensitized cement: Materials and conservation state of Nikos Kessanlis “Wall-Erotica”

Nikos Kessanlis (1930–2004) is recognized as an influential figure in the Greek and international art scene. The artist was an active member of the Mec Art (mechanic art) group, a creative expression that appeared in the 1960s in Europe, focused mainly on creating artworks using only mechanical media. The present study examines an artwork created in 1996, part of a series titled “Wall-Erotica”, where Kessanlis investigates the combination of photomechanical techniques on non-conventional materials such as cement-based and plaster. These intricate contemporary artworks, where the artist uses the traditional method of black and white photography printed on the abovementioned materials, may show various defects due to the incompatibility of the materials used, the failure of the application and decay factors related to environmental conditions. The case of Nikos Kessanlis’ photosensitized artworks on cement is herein examined in order to investigate the factors which affect their stability and cause their deterioration, aiming to develop a holistic approach regarding their conservation and preservation. The artwork in question was examined using non-invasive techniques such as portable digital microscopy, passive and active thermography, colorimetry and micro sampling analyzed with the aid of SEM/EDX microscopy. An integrated methodology was developed for the investigation of complex contemporary artworks so as to characterize the composing materials used, understand the artist's technique and evaluate its overall state of conservation. The examination of the artwork “Erotica” revealed its poor condition with various defects on the support (cement and plaster) and the photosensitized surface, such as cracks, flaking, oxidation, color change, and other ones not to mention them all. This state of conservation can be related to various factors such as the artist's experimentation tendency in practice (e.g., imperfect developing process) and the uncontrolled and extreme environmental factors during its exposure and storage.

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.culher.2019.06.009

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