Modern Science Meets Modern Art: Dow Research Helps Tate Restore Rothko Masterpiece

Dow scientists provide research towards restoration of painting marred by graffiti in 2012

London - May 13, 2014

Tate Modern celebrated a collaboration of art and science today when the gallery announced the return to public display of Black on Maroon (1958), a Mark Rothko painting damaged by graffiti in 2012. The painting's successful restoration follows 18 months of extensive conservation work informed by analytical information from Dow Coating Material experts.

Black on Maroon (1958) is one of Rothko's Seagram murals, iconic works of American abstract expressionism that the artist gave to Tate in 1970. The work was vandalized nearly two years ago with strokes of indelible black graffiti ink that marred its subtly layered surface and, in some cases, soaking completely through to the back of the canvas. Scientific investigation of the ink and the painting was carried out by Tate's conservation scientist Dr. Bronwyn Ormsby, whose work drew on research by Dow scientists and who utilized their collective extensive coatings expertise and state-of-the-art technology to discover cleaning solvents that would remove the ink.

Dow experts analyzed the ink and then identified a shortlist of possible solvents for an effective cleaning solution. Using Dow proprietary computer software, the scientists established solubility parameters for the ink that would help them identify cleaning solvents with similar solubility parameters. Tate was able to quickly rule out water based cleaning solutions, as the paint layers below the graffiti were too water sensitive to stand up to a water-based solution.

Turning the focus to straight solvents, Dow scientists Drs. Melinda Keefe and Felipe Donate spent two days in Dow Solvent Laboratory in Midland, Michigan, testing solvents on dried samples of the graffiti ink.

"We were able to narrow it down to a small list of solvents and microemulsions for consideration in the Rothko restoration," said Keefe. "We sent this list of solvents to Tate, and their conservation experts added these to the range of options they were testing in order to determine the best possible solution: a blend of benzyl alcohol and ethyl lactate."

The restored Rothko went back on display this morning at Tate Modern where visitors can see firsthand how modern science helped preserve a key piece of modern art.

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Dow Coating Materials is the most innovative coatings raw material supplier in the world; driving fundamental shifts in the coatings industry and moving the market as the expert’s expert in coatings solutions. Through its mission of collaboration, inspiration, innovation and growth, the business provides material products, science, technology, and manufacturing solutions to the architectural and industrial coatings industry worldwide. Dow Coating Materials operates 43 manufacturing plants worldwide and 13 dedicated R&D facilities across all major geographic markets where Dow does business. For more information please visit

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For Editorial Information:

Emily Parenteau
Dow Coating Materials

Beth Crisafi
G&S Business Communications