Inside a Kemah warehouse, hundreds of panels from a high-profile work of art are meticulously placed in racks on rolling carts awaiting their moment to shine again.
Years of exposure to the elements have prompted the need for conservation of acclaimed artist Carlos Cruz-Diez’s “Double Physichromie”. The piece belongs to the Public Art of the University of Houston System. With more than 600 pieces, it’s one of the largest and most impressive university art collections in the nation.
After nearly a decade of sitting outside the Welcome Center Parking Garage, the colorful, serpentine sculpture is gone - but will soon return to a new environment with a fresh, updated look. The UH piece was the first public art sculpture installation in the United States for the Venezuelan-born Cruz-Diez, who turns 95 years old this year.
“’Double Physichromie’ is one of the most significant artworks in the collection, and our investment in the preservation of this sculpture is essential,” said Mike Guidry, curator of Public Art of the University of Houston System.
Art conservator Robert Marshall and his team have been working to restore pieces of the collection since November 2016. He admits this particular project—which is both a relocation and restoration— has been challenging. In the process of taking it apart, Marshall realized the sculpture, which was installed in 2009, would need a lot of tender loving care to bring it back to its original condition.
“Most of our work has been removing calcium deposits, which had to be done before we could even start treating the paint on the surface of the aluminum,” Marshall said. “We are also applying a coating to the back to make sure the metal tubes don’t corrode.”
It will take nine quarts of automotive paint, a variation of acid gels, polish and even mild shampoo to get the job done.
When the restoration is complete, “Double Physichromie” will return to a green space on the campus between the Graduate College of Social Work building, Fine Arts Building and Student Center Satellite. The piece will be 20 inches higher and positioned for people to walk around and see its bright colors and shape.
“We took this opportunity to re-site the piece in a more suitable location so viewers would enjoy and appreciate it in its totality,” Guidry added. “It will be a very different experience.”
The sculpture is expected to be back on campus in its new location this summer.