Menu Shopping cart
Your basket is empty.
Support us


Exhibitions and Projects
Revelations | 2 Jun. – 31 Aug. 2022

Revelations: Frančišek Smerdu

Motif from the National Liberation Movement, conservation issues of plaster casts

In 2012, the National Gallery of Slovenia received a donation of thirty-seven sculptures by Frančišek Smerdu. Plaster casts possess a special kind of spontaneous charm. They are often made from cheap materials that can be found lying around in a sculptor's studio. In Smerdu's case, his casts were mostly used as models for stone carvings or bronze castings, or functioned as maquettes, documenting the work's creative path from ideation to final form. As such, plaster casts are precious documents offering an unfiltered access to the artist's creative process.

The conservation of the Smerdu donation was a challenge for the Gallery's restorers, which worked on this project for 8 years. Plaster itself is a fragile material and highly sensitive to water, moisture and mechanical stress. Moreover, plaster casts are complex systems; they often contain reinforcements made from various materials (wood, canvas, metal etc.) which age differently and thus influence the condition of the whole. The relief Motif from the National Liberation Movement is a good example of this complexity.

The conservation treatment

Upon arrival to the restoration studio of the National Gallery of Slovenia, it was immediately clear that the relief was in a bad state of conservation. The surface of the work was covered in a dark layer of dust, and the relief itself had significant cracks and was structurally unstable. The specific construction method used by Smerdu also meant that we were severely limited in the range of available treatment options for the object.

How did the damage occur?

Smerdu cast the relief in two layers. To reinforce the structure, he submerged a piece of canvas in the first pour of plaster, and encased two wooden boards in the second pour, which are still visible from the back of the relief. Fluctuations in humidity and temperature caused the wood to contract, expand and warp, which consequently caused the plaster to crack and break with it. The plaster fragments were kept together only by the canvas reinforcement and the wooden planks.

Surface cleaning

We began the conservation treatment by gently vacuuming the front and the back of the relief. More dust was removed using latex-free make-up sponges. Next, we used a water-based gel made with Agar, a strong gellant extracted from a type of algae. Agar gels are able to retain a considerable amount of water and thus allow the use of wet cleaning methods on fragile and water-sensitive surfaces such as plaster. We poured slightly warm Agar gel on the surface, let it cool, and harden for a few minutes. Then we simply peeled it away with the remaining dirt, which bound itself to the gel. Lastly, we removed the thicker patches of dirt mechanically, with a scalpel.

Stabilizing the structure

The canvas reinforcement, which still linked the broken fragments, was a huge obstacle when attempting to stabilize the structure of the relief. The canvas did not allow us to apply the adhesive evenly inside the cracks. Instead of gluing, we decided to inject a filler into the cracks and thus stabilize the structure by filling the voids between the broken pieces. The filler material was applied by brush or injection and the eventual overflow was cleaned with acetone.

Erica Sartori

Presentation: 2 June 2022, 6 p.m.

2 June–31 August 2022
National Gallery of Slovenia
Prešernova 24
1000 Ljubljana