Even in a museum environment, objects can become dusty and it is the responsibility of the objects conservation department to dust each artwork. We sometimes dust artworks when visitors are in the galleries and we have noticed that many people are curious about what we are doing. Here is a brief selection of the most common questions about dusting artworks and our responses:
Assistant Conservator Alisa Eagleston dusting the suspended Ruth Asawa sculptures.
How often do you dust the artworks?
We dust the objects that are displayed outside of cases once every one to two weeks. The frequency of dusting generally depends on the amount of foot traffic in the galleries.
Alisa dusting Josiah McElheny's Model for Total Reflective Abstraction.
Why do you need to dust?
We dust the artworks for two main reasons. First, dust can create appearances and textures on the surface of an object that the artist did not intend. Second, dust left on an object can actually damage it by trapping moisture or harmful particles against the surface.
Some sculptures, such as Mark di Suvero’s Pre-Columbian, require a long reach.
What are you using to dust?
We use four main tools for dusting the art: a duster on an extendable handle, a soft brush, an air duster that consists of a squeezeable rubber bulb, and tweezers. The duster and soft brush can be used safely on many of our objects. We use our air duster to remove dust from objects with fragile surfaces, recesses that a duster cannot reach, and surfaces that tend to catch or stick to the duster’s fibers. Fuzz, hairs, or fibers that are caught on the surface of the object are removed using the tweezers.
Our air duster in action on Enrico Donati's Totem
What are you squirting on the art?
We are actually not squirting anything on the art. People sometimes mistake the use of our air duster for spraying or squirting water or chemicals onto the art. Any cleaning involving water or solvents generally takes place in the Objects Conservation laboratory facilities.
The figures on these Spirit Boards from Papua New Guinea are smiling, but not because it tickles.
Does it tickle?
No. None of us have ever encountered a ticklish object. If we do, we promise we will write a post about it.
–Alisa Eagleston, Assistant Conservator, Objects Conservation Department