Crew cleaning Kenneth Noland's


Touching up Matthew Ritchie's
Games of Chance and Skill


Alexander Calder's
La Grand Voile (The Great Sail)

The List Visual Arts Center is the steward of MIT’s campus-wide collection of modern and contemporary art, administering the exhibition and distribution of the Student Loan Art Collection, the circulation of works from the collection in departmental and administrative locations across campus, and the commissioning of new works through the Institute’s longstanding Percent-for-Art policy.

With this stewardship role comes the responsibility for the care and conservation of this large and diverse collection. This includes the washing, waxing, and/or repainting of outdoor sculptures; conservation and framing of works on paper and paintings; relocating of works to better protect and preserve their integrity; maintenance of water features; and many other similar activities.


In the summer of 2009, the MIT List Visual Arts Center carried out a major conservation effort to preserve and maintain a number of important artworks on MIT’s campus.  Thanks to support from MIT alumni, private donors, private foundations, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Council for the Arts at MIT, the List Center was able to give much-needed attention to the highly regarded campus public art collection.

In late May over the course of two weeks, La Grand Voile (The Great Sail) by Alexander Calder received a comprehensive conservation treatment. For over 40 years this monumental steel sculpture, a gift of Mr. and Mrs. Eugene McDermott, has stood as the centerpiece of McDermott Court and is identified with MIT by students, faculty, and guests alike.

The forty-foot tall sculpture was power washed to remove scuffing, staining, and other residues. Rust that had developed along welds was removed and the work treated to prevent further rusting. Once this treatment was completed, the sculpture was repainted according to the fabricator’s specifications. The project was funded by Elliot Wolk (MIT Class of 1957) and a generous grant from the MIT Council on the Arts.

In June of 2009, conservators began work on Three-Piece Reclining Figure, Draped by Henry Moore. This monumental bronze sculpture, sited in MIT’s Killian Court, measures nearly nine feet wide, sixteen feet long, and nine feet tall. It was a gift of the Eugene McDermott Family and other Friends of MIT in 1976.

Since the sculpture was originally placed level with the grass in 1976, it had been accessible to climbing and sitting and had been badly scratched and abraded. Contact with the ground had also rusted the underside. After consulting with the Henry Moore Foundation in England, the List Center implemented a plan to raise the sculpture two feet above ground on a new granite-faced plinth. After rust removal and treatment of the underside, the sculpture was cleaned of all wax and acrylic coating and washed to remove loose corrosion. A chemical patina was then applied to the bronze, followed by an acrylic coating and a finish of wax. While the sculpture was being treated, the new plinth was poured, and faced with granite; the sculpture was then placed upon it.

Work on this project took seven weeks to complete. The project costs were generously funded by the Eugene McDermott Foundation, the Edwin S. Webster Foundation, and the Henry Moore Foundation. The sculpture conservation was carried out by Daedalus Inc, Fine Art Conservators.

In addition to these efforts, the List Center addressed conservation and maintenance of Kenneth Noland’s mural, Here–There, located in the Wiesner Building, which houses the List Visual Arts Center galleries, the MIT Office for the Arts, and the MIT Media Lab. Kenneth Noland was one of three artists that collaborated with the architect I.M. Pei when the building was designed and built in 1985. Noland’s mural, painted directly on the metal skin of the building, extends the full height of the main wall of the atrium, and continues on the outdoor surfaces in both directions. It is the artist’s only architectural commission in his long and distinguished career.

Over the years, the interior colors had dulled due to collection of dirt and dust settling on the wall. The exterior colors had faded considerably, and some of the metal panels were showing flaking and chipping as well as discoloration and staining. After the interior surfaces were thoroughly washed, the crew cleaned and repainted the exterior surfaces, using the interior colors as a guide.

The work was done by John W. Egan, industrial painting contractors, who originally painted the mural by hand in 1985. They consulted with Gianfranco Pocobene Conservation Studio on the project. The project was funded by The National Endowment for the Arts, the Henry Luce Foundation, the Wyeth Foundation for American Art, the Eugene S. McDermott Foundation, and Ruth Bowman.

Two additional public art works will receive maintenance, repairs, and conservation in the spring of 2010. Louise Nevelson’s painted steel sculpture Transparent Horizon will be pressure washed and welds will be repaired. The sculpture will then be repainted. Sarah Sze’s sculpture, Blue Poles, at the Sidney-Pacific residence needs structural repairs where welds have failed, and it will also be repainted.





Works that have been
conserved since 2000 include


Jacques Lipchitz’s
Hagar in the Desert





Bernar Venet's

Two Indeterminate Lines




Theodore Roszak's
Bell Tower for MIT Chapel



Harry Bertoia

Altar screen for MIT Chapel (1955), sculpture


Scott Burton
Settee, Bench, and Balustrade (1985), sculpture


Alexander Calder
La Grand Voile (The Great Sail) (1965), sculpture


Gene Davis 
Klondike Calendar (1965), painting


Robert Engman
untitled (1968), sculpture


Robert Goodnough
Banner (n.d.), textile


Dimitri Hadzi

Elmo/MIT (1963), sculpture


Jean Robert Ipousteguy
Cénotaphe (1957), sculpture


Jacques Lipchitz

Bather (1923-25); Hagar in the Desert (1957); Sacrifice III (1949-1957) and Birth of the Muses (1944-1950), sculptures


James Melchert
Coming to Light (1994), ceramic mural


Joan Miro

Spanish Dancer (n.d.), textile


Henry Moore
Three-Piece Reclining Figure, Draped (1976), sculpture


Kenneth Noland
Here–There (1985), painted mural


Jules Olitski 
Magic Number (1967), painting


Beverly Pepper
Trinity (Formerly Dunes I) (1971), sculpture


Matthew Ritchie
Games of Chance and Skill (2002), installation


Theodore Roszak
Bell Tower for MIT Chapel (1955), sculpture


Nicolas Schöffer
Spatiodynamic (1967), sculpture

Frank Stella

Loohooloo (1994), painting/installation and Heads on Tails (1988), sculpture


Bill Thompson
Oxbow (1995), painting


Bernar Venet
Two Indeterminate Lines (1993), sculpture







If you are interested in supporting the List Center's conservation efforts, click here to see how you can adopt an artwork.