Cleaning Smoke

October 21, 2008

Early one morning last week I walked through the Ahmanson Building and found one of our conservators dusting Smoke, the Tony Smith sculpture occupying the building's atrium. As you can see from the photos, Smoke is huge, with a lot of hard-to-reach surface area. In the past, conservators used soap and water to wash it, followed by a special formula spray cleaner; but the cleaner left the sculpture a bit streaky so they devised a new procedure.

First, they give it a once over with a long, synthetic feather duster of sorts. Then they hit it with a Swiffer. Yes, a Swiffer. (Procter & Gamble, if you're listening and want to make a donation...) Next, a microfiber towel is used to get any last tidbits of dust. It's a two-day process that involves a scissor lift and a lot of fine-tuning. The difficulty of cleaning is compounded by the color of the object, black, which really shows dust from Southern California's famed Santa Anas and a campus undergoing major construction. As one conservator told me, the most common comment observers make is, "Hey, did you know you missed a spot?" Yes, they know, and they're on it.

Allison Agsten