Calder and Miró share a non-pictorial space. The poetic balance in Calder’s mobile sculptures appears to settle in certain works by Miró, such as his Constellations. The affinities in their approach to shapes and colours led to a strong friendship between the two men—one that would last all their lives and is apparent in the Four Wings sculpture, which pays homage to Miró and welcomes visitors to the Fundació.
Elisabet Serrat, the Fundació’s conservator, tells us about the restoration of the piece and how the original structure emerged after the cleaning and removal of its many layers of paint. Beneath the thick red coating, the artist and friend’s signature appeared, etched into the iron surface. The detailed description of this technical process provides an opportunity to recall the friendship between the two artists.
Alexander Calder’s sculpture, Four Wings, was not always at the Fundació Joan Miró. It was originally loaned to the City of Barcelona and installed in the gardens on the Avinguda del General Goded (since renamed Avinguda de Pau Casals), near the Plaça de Francesc Macià.
When the term of the loan ended and the sculpture was due to be returned, Joan Miró asked his friend Alexander Calder to donate it to the Fundació Joan Miró, offering him one of his own works in exchange. That is how the sculpture ended up in front of the building’s main façade, where it has continued to stand since the Fundació was inaugurated in 1976. After attending the opening, Alexander Calder returned to New York, where he died on 11 November, 1976.
Ever since it was installed at the Fundació, the sculpture has been a key, iconic element in the building’s exterior image. We are reminded of the friendship between Alexander Calder and Joan Miró with Four Wings set on the outside of Sert’s building and, on the inside, Mercury Fountain, another gift to Miró from the American sculptor.
Calder produced Four Wings in 1972. It measures 510 x 330 x 300 cm and is made of painted steel.
All these years of outdoor exposure have taken its toll on the piece. In direct contact with ultraviolet light, visible light and infrared radiation, the paint faded and lost all its original hues. Recovering the original texture and the shade of red that Calder chose was the main challenge in restoring this piece.
In addition, it is important to note that the outdoor location of the sculpture is easily accessed, so that it had also been subjected to mild forms of aggression caused by the public. An additional problem is rainwater, which tends to collect in certain areas and cause the steel to rust, especially at the base of the sculpture.
The Restoration Process
Before proceeding in any way, we consulted the Calder Foundation, which handles authentication of the artist’s works. Its website includes technical guidelines for restoring this type of sculpture, which we took into account throughout the entire restoration process.
Until recently, we had repainted the sculpture as needed, treating rust occasionally. We finally reached the point where the layers of paint were so thick that the texture of the metal was no longer apparent and, since the paint had faded again and the iron showed a few areas of rust that had to be treated, it was time to pursue a more thorough effort.
First of all, we ran a few cleaning tests to determine which was the best system for removing all the coats of paint. We decided to remove the outer coats with abrasive blasting (which involves small particles of abrasive materials blasted at low pressure to remove the coat of paint). It is a fast system that enabled us to keep track of the coats that were being removed until we reached the last one, which was darker and easy to identify. This last coat, laid directly on the steel surface, was removed with a solvent gel to ensure that we would not damage the texture of the metal and follow the guidelines provided by the Calder Foundation.
Solvent gel in use
Halfway through the removal process
Some details of the fully cleaned sculpture
Once all the coats of paint had been removed, as well as any solvent gel that may have remained after the cleaning, we had to protect the steel to prevent it from rusting. We used brushes to coat the entire surface with a rust converter, which uses a chemical reaction to transform any existing iron oxide into a black layer that protects the metal. Once this layer was completely dry, we applied a coat of two-component epoxy resin primer that protects the metal while improving paint adhesion. The primer is white and was applied with a paint spray gun.
Applying the layer of primer
To seal the joints and prevent water from seeping in, we applied polyurethane silicone sealant, trying to use as little as possible so as not to alter the sculpture’ original texture. After allowing for the sealant manufacturer’s recommended drying time, we proceeded to paint the sculpture.
Applying the first coat of paint
We did not use just any sort of paint: the Calder Foundation has a chart with the exact colours the artist selected for his outdoor sculptures, so that they could be repainted and would always have the desired final finish. Several companies continue to manufacture the colours Calder chose; in the case of this sculpture, it is Philolaque Rouge Calder/3117, a lacquer paint with a matte finish.
As noted by the Calder Foundation, the aim is to achieve a flat, even surface; if the paint were applied with brushes or rollers, it would not have the right finish. Therefore, we used a paint spray gun and applied two coats, letting the first one dry for twenty-four hours before proceeding with the second one.
That is how the restoration process was completed. The next procedures to be applied will not require all these steps; when the paint fades again, all we will have to do is apply a coat of Rouge Calder paint (again, with a spray gun), and so forth in the future until the thickness has built up enough so that the texture of the metal is no longer apparent. Then we will have to remove all the paint again and start anew.
Restoration with the collaboration of Pinturas Lorente