A work of commissioned art does not, of course, end with its installation or even a dedication ceremony. With some basic care, commissioned works of art will be enjoyed for many years to come. But what type of maintenance is required, and whose job is it to ensure this maintenance is completed per the artist’s recommendations and timeline? We asked five experienced artists to describe their own maintenance plans for commission works of art.
“A [commission] contract can state how the work is to be maintained,” says Susan Crehan-Hostetler, Gallery Director for Hostetler Gallery and wife of sculptor David Hostetler. “For our bronze sculptures, we recommend that the piece be washed and waxed at least twice a year with a high-content carnauba wax. We provide a can of this wax and instructions to our collectors when they buy a bronze for an exterior location. Wood sculptures are not recommended to go outdoors. They can be sealed, but eventually weather will break down the wood.” She cautions that even with maintenance agreements and instructions from the artist, it’s ultimately up to the client to ensure the piece will last for years to come. “You can have all the contracts in place, but cannot make the owners—be it a building, park, state, or federal environment—maintain the artwork.”
Public artist Doug Freeman agrees “the best maintenance is a consistent plan that actually runs without the artist. Artists intend to create works that will outlive us by many years.” After creating a project, Freeman checks in with the person in charge of public art for the community to see how things are going. “In the first few years after a work is installed, you want see that the maintenance plan is operational and adjusted based on site conditions.”
Other art pieces, such as those created to hang on an interior wall, may require less maintenance. “We create hanging systems for our large pieces,” says fiber artist Carol LeBaron, who gives detailed maintenance instructions for her work. “Generally, our works do not need much maintenance. If they gather dust, they are easy to clean with a lint roller, although hospitals are pretty dust free.”
“We send a letter of maintenance along with our tapestries or mobiles,” reports fiber artist Judy Dioszegi, whose pieces are often displayed suspended in atriums. “The letter addresses specifically how the fabric is to be ironed, as well as instructions for temperature control and storage, if necessary. We always offer repairs if they are due to our workmanship; if a mishap occurs on their side, we offer suggestions on what they can do if they don’t want to ship it back to us.”
“As all of my work is bronze on stone I recommend that indoor pieces be waxed once a year with a paste floor wax and then buffed after drying,” says sculptor Brent Cooke. “At the same time, I would assess the piece for any damage that might have occurred since the last check.” If the piece is located outdoors and subject to the weather, Cooke recommends clients wax it with a paste floor wax at least twice a year. “I would also want to check all of the mounting points for stress fractures. If any fractures are occurring, I would take remedial action that might include welding and refinishing in the stress area.”