Public art enhances our environments and daily lives. Its influence is felt in a passing moment as you catch a glimpse of a mural while en route, or allow yourself the time to linger and appreciate public art in a plaza on a sunny day.
Concerto is a part of the University of British Columbias Outdoor Art Collection. It is a welded copper sheet sculpture, installed on an exterior wall of the Buchanan Building when Concerto was created in 1961. The artist Gerhard Class worked in stone and steel, and many of his artworks are distributed throughout the Vancouver area, Canada, and Europe.
What can happen to art in public places?
Fifty-five years of a salty outdoor environment, direct sunlight and heat, cold, and Northwest Coast rainy conditions have all contributed to the evolution of Concertos original grey-white finish. Its present-day patina is a striking collection of drips, colour variances and visually active patterns.
This sculptures installation with a bench situated beneath it permitted close encounters with the public in the past. Over time, welded seams along the joints of its structure were detached and separated. Its pipe and metal armature were weakened. Birds nested on its back-side framework and spider webs, mud wasps nests, rust marks from Coke cans, splatters of bird guano, dead bugs, scrapes, surface grime, and drips reveal the physical history of this piece.
Earlier repairs included grinding the surface with power tools and failed welding that resulted in the loss of patina and areas of the sculpture being compromised. This most recent collaborative preservation project combined two specialists, myself as conservator and onsite project manager, and Carl Schlichting, a sculptor and museum mount expert, in partnership with the Belkin Art Gallery and UBC.
The process for repairing Concerto included studying the sculpture to evaluate its design, materials, construction, and varying conditions. Archival images were indispensable in determining correct angles and shapes of missing sections, for creating mock-ups, and preparing for the sculptures structural reconstruction work.
After testing and planning, the sculptures missing sections were reconstructed in new copper sheeting. The bent areas were straightened and the armature reinforced. Welding along joints secured unstable areas and separated seams were rejoined into place. Once the structural work was completed, the front and back of the sculpture was cleaned. The new copper sections were degreased and prepared for patina reconstruction.
Comprehensive research and testing of materials, evaluation of patina formulas, and sample production were required to recreate an acceptable patina for the new copper, and for tthe repaired or selected areas missing the original patina. The reconstructed patina needed to be compatible and enduring to visually evolve with the sculptures original patina in its outdoor environment.
Concerto has now been re-installed in its original location and will continue to be monitored in this new stage of its lifecycle as public art. This sculpture becomes more inspiring with the exploration of its design come visit and experience UBCs Public Art Tour.