Research and Conservation of a Day-Glo Painted Leather Jacket at the IMA

IMA conservators are collaborating on a unique cross-disciplinary conservation problem. A leather Moto jacket painted with the unmistakable — albeit fluorescent green — face of the Mona Lisa was acquired by the IMA. Designed by designer Stephan Sprouse and painted by artist Stefano Castronovo (http://collection.imamuseum.org/artwork/43502/index.html), the jacket is currently unexhibitable due to damage and presents a unique challenge to conservators at the IMA.

Sprouse was the fashion designer for edgy street culture and early MTV rock stars. His sophomore collection, launched in the summer of 1984, featured a line of leather Moto jackets, some of which would soon receive a face-lift. Famous faces including Marlon Brando, Michael Jackson, Darth Vader, and the Mona Lisa were painted on the backs of some of these coats by artist Stefano Castronovo. In the mid-1980s Castronovo was best known for his monumental and at times controversial street-art murals in New York City, including a bloody-eyed Mona Lisa. Concurrently, he was a master at painting jackets, which he termed Mobile Pop Art.

Designed as club-wear, the garment’s full visual effect is primarily achieved under the black lights found in nightclubs. Allowing the jacket to be exhibited under UV with all of its concomitant degradation concerns is ethically conflicting. With additional conservation issues indicative of a neglected past, including peeling paint, losses and possible mold, the treatment is further complicated by the jacket’s potential display in both the visible and ultraviolet spectrum.

Associate Conservator of Textiles Amanda Holden, Clowes Conservator of Paintings Fiona Beckett, and Otto N. Frenzel III Senior Conservation Scientist Gregory D. Smith are conducting analysis of both the jacket and conservation materials. One particular challenge involves determining a suitable retouching medium for display under both lighting conditions. It is hoped that with analysis and testing of fluorescent paints, a suitable protocol can be established for color matching already faded fluorescent paint. In addition to stabilizing the Day-Glo painted leather jacket, the team of conservators are taking into account unique ethical considerations surrounding its interpretation and display. The findings will be presented at the upcoming 43rd annual AIC Annual Meeting in Miami.

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