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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter 2020

17. Disappearing ink! Unraveling the fading of a contemporary design object

From the book Chemical Analysis in Cultural Heritage

  • Gregory D. Smith , Victor J. Chen , Kurt F. Hostettler and Caitlyn E. Phipps


In 2009 the Indianapolis Museum of Art acquired Fernando Brizio’s contemporary ceramic, Painting a Fresco with Giotto #3, as part of its effort to grow a collection of modern and contemporary European design objects. The artwork comprises an unglazed white faience vase that has been pierced with 30 brightly colored felt-tip markers whose dried ink stains create a whimsical polkadot surface. The vase immediately joined a traveling exhibition, and when it returned to the museum after nearly a year of display, many of the ink spots had faded dramatically, some having nearly vanished. Technical analysis was undertaken to (1) determine the cause of the fading and the composition of its Giotto brand Turbocolor markers, (2) to determine the future fading potential of the object, and (3) to suggest new safeguards to protect this and similar objects from future damage. Non-destructive analysis of the vase using Raman spectroscopy proved challenging due to the overall application of an acrylic varnish by the artist and the intense fluorescence of many of the marker inks. Using liquid chromatography with mass spectrometry on surrogate pens acquired in 2014, the 30 markers utilized in the object were ultimately determined to contain 9 primary synthetic dyes and numerous synthetic byproducts. The inks are comprised of food colorants, which accounts for their rapid fading. In situ microfade testing showed that the vase is still extremely light sensitive and will fade further under even the most stringent lighting protocols. An artist interview provided valuable information about Brizio’s thoughts concerning the life of these objects, his working methods, and the interpretation of the Giotto series of ceramics. The artwork has since been deaccessioned from the museum’s collection but has taken on a new role in gallery didactics focused on the materials of modern design and the ephemeral and changing nature of some artworks. This project highlights the urgency of characterizing the fading rate of potentially light sensitive modern art or directly identifying the colorants used in contemporary artworks prior to their first exhibition.

© 2020 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Munich/Boston
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