Lasers, the innovative approach to the analysis and conservation of monochromatic Reinhardt’s Black Painting

Contact Person(s):
Prof. Costas Fotakis Prof. Demetrios Anglos Dr. Paraskevi Pouli Ms. Kristalia Melessanaki
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The laser cleaning of unwanted layers of acrylic paint from the surface of the “Black Painting” has been a real challenge and in this context, a thorough investigation was undertaken.

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The collaborative effort between the Institute of Electronics Structure and Lasers (IESL) of FORTH, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museumof New York City, the Museum of Modern Art of New York City and Art Innovation from Netherlands resulted to a demanding scientific study and a successful laser cleaning application on an important but irreparably damaged painting by Ad Reinhardt. Black Painting (1960-1966), was donated by AXA Art Insurance to the Guggenheim Museum as part of an unprecedented conservation research study. 

A number of techniques were tested to treat the surface of the Reinhardt work, both to remove layers of over-paint and to treat blemishes, cracking and burnishes on the surface. In particular, several laser techniques were tested extensively to establish their efficacy in the treatment of difficult monochromatic surfaces, which present particular challenges for conservators. Several lasers were tested at the Foundation for Research and Technology, Institute of Electronic Structure and Laser in Crete. An excimer laser was coupled with an advanced workstation designed by Art Innovations in Oldenzaal, to carefully control the laser and perform Laser Induced Spectroscopy (LIBS) during cleaning.
A number of conservators and scientists collaborated on the design and experimental laser treatment, which utilized the mechanized easel and “optical arm” to deliver the laser to the surface with the most favorable parameters. The system that was utilized produced promising results, and since that time the team has proposed a number of improvements to refine this technique.

Figure: (left) LIBS spectra recorded duringthe laser cleaning; the detection of Cr and Pb indicates the presence of the yellow PbCrO4, one of the components in the acrylic layer that lies just over the sealant that has been applied on the original paint and therefore determines the cleaning limit. (right) UV fluorescence was employed to evaluate the cleaning tests and assess the actual cleaning intervention.


Carol Stringari, Chief Conservator of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation’s Conservation Department, New York City

Chris McGlinchey, Conservation Scientist, the Museum of Modern Art, New York City
Art Innovation, Oldenzaal,  Netherlands
Ad Reinhardt Black Painting was donated by AXA Art Insurance



  • In-depth assessment of modifications induced during the laser cleaning of modern paintings
    A. Selimis, P. Vounisiou, G.J. Tserevelakis, K. Melessanaki, P. Pouli, G. Filippidis, C. Beltsios, S. Georgiou and C. Fotakis, SPIE Europe 2009 Optical Metrology O3A: Optics for Arts, Architecture and Archaeology, DOI: 10.1117/12.827658, 2009

  • Laser Cleaning and Spectroscopy: A Synergistic Approach in the Conservation of a Modern Painting
    K. Melessanaki, C. Stringari, C. Fotakis, D. Anglos, Laser Chemistry, vol. 2006, Article ID 42709, 5 pages, doi:10.1155/2006/42709, 2006

Project Members
Prof. Costas Fotakis
Prof. Demetrios Anglos
Dr. Paraskevi Pouli
Ms. Kristalia Melessanaki

Last Updated:  10/3/2011