Fighting Chemistry of Decay

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Fighting Chemistry of Decay

LOS ANGELES—Making an art of material science, researchers at the Getty Conservation Institute have labored for a year to repair one of the 20th century’s most important American paintings—a Jackson Pollock creation called “Mural.”

In the process, conservators at the Los Angeles-based center are pioneering the use of digital X-ray radiography, near-infrared imaging, electron scanning microscopy and mass spectrometers to probe the painter’s flamboyant work. Their forensic tools turned the $140 million canvas into a crime scene in which the culprit is the chemistry of decay.

“From the chemical composition and buildup of paints, we are unlocking evidence of Pollock’s …

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