“In the early 1960s, abstract artist Mark Rothko created five murals for a penthouse dining room at Harvard University. By the late ’70s they were trashed — sun-faded and splattered with cocktails.”
Since it was Rothko’s wish that the five murals remain a set on display in that busy Harvard dining room, the pieces were quickly damaged and were taken down in 1979. Unfortunately, traditional restoration methods proved impossible for the set of paintings. The techniques Rothko used that made the works rare and unique, also made them irreparable and with Rothko dead, restoration experts needed to come up with a new method for restoring the art. Typically, art restoration involves a process called “in-painting”. This means painting over the damaged areas with new paint. Rothko, being the innovator that he was, created his own paint out of animal glue and took the secret recipe with him to his grave so in-painting was not an option. Instead, Harvard Art Museum’s conservation team invented a new method of light restoration. The works are now hung back up on the wall with light projectors shining on each piece in incremental degrees to make corrections where needed.
But don’t hold your breath – the restored paintings won’t be unveiled to the rest of the art world until the fall.