Considerations for the structural stabilization of deteriorated industrial rubber

Julie Wolfe and Eleonora Nagy


Preliminary testing was carried out on a variety of industrial sheet rubbers to assist in the structural stabilization of artwork in the collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. The focus of the presentation is on Richard Serra’s Belts, a sculpture created in 1966 from strips of industrial sheet rubber composed of polychloroprene and polyisoprene. There are nine belts, and each are comprised of several tangled strips of sheet rubber connected by iron staples. Each belt hangs vertically by their own weight (40 lbs) from spikes in the wall. The rubber strips supporting the weight of the belts have become brittle and some of them have stress cracking. Without structural support, the belts are at risk of more cracking and possibly breaking during installation. The Belts were scheduled for an exhibition and required immediate structural stabilization.

The attachment of a lining to support the areas of weakened rubber was considered, and a series of mock-ups were created. Different fabrics for backing supports were adhered to sample rubbers using several adhesives, including ethylene vinyl acetate, polyvinyl acetate emulsions, and proprietary rubber adhesives. A selected group of adhesives and backing materials were tested for sheer strength. Cleaned rubber surfaces seemed to show better adhesion in most cases. As a result, minor cleaning tests on samples of rubber were made, and results were compared with cleaning tests on the aged Serra rubbers. The mock-ups involved brushing adhesive onto the fabric lining and pressing onto the rubber with clamping. Variation in clamping pressure caused distortion and flexing of the rubber to occur. Supporting cauls for clamping were tried, and the supports made from moldable polycaprolactone sheeting were the most successful (Klarity). Promising results were observed for an adhered backing support using polyester/linen fabric and Beva D-8 adhesive. The authors feel that more testing needs to be carried out on aged rubbers before a treatment can be approved for the Serra Belts.

A mounting system was implemented to minimize strain on the rubber strips hanging from wall spikes. The original spikes used to install the Belts have been lost, and modern replacements were recently purchased. Curved support plates were welded onto the spikes to prevent the rubber from bending too sharply. In addition, the spikes are mounted into a frame that holds the spike and support plate at an ideal angle from the wall. The mount was toned using Beva D-8 and dry pigments to imitate the rubber surfaces and make the support less visible to the viewer. A new crating system was designed to reduce the irreversible distortion of rubber that could occur during horizontal storage. Part of the storage system also serves as an installation tray to help prevent damage while hanging them on the wall. Furthermore, replacement rubbers were collected from industrial rubber suppliers for possible replacement of components in the future. Superficial distressing using adhesives and pigments have been tested in order to simulate the deteriorated surface appearance of old rubber and to help create matching replacements for rubber strips that may become too deteriorated to support the weight of the sculpture.

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