Modern & Contemporary Art

Over the past 50 years we have cemented our reputation as the go-to company for modern and contemporary art restoration.

An international team of specialists keeps the department at the forefront of restoration of modern and contemporary art. Clients know that a phone call to Plowden & Smith delivers a fuss-free, high quality solution to a range of modern and contemporary art issues, whether a work has been stained, damaged or scratched.

We have treated art by Anish Kapoor, Marcel Duchamp, Grayson Perry and Picasso, as well as pieces that include unstable or degradable materials, such as certain types of house paint, wood shavings, rope or plastic.

Regardless of the medium or the extent of the damage, our research-led, interdepartmental approach results in innovative, sympathetic treatments that support the integrity and longevity of the object.

Our expertise allows clients to focus on enjoying their collection, knowing that a leading specialist is just a phone call away.

Featured Projects

Nana, Niki de Saint Phalle

This papier-mâché figure by Niki de Saint Phalle is from the artist’s Nana series, dating from 1963-64. The damage it had sustained suggested it had been incorrectly stored and/or handled in the past. The surface was covered with dust and grease; there was also a significant crack almost completely circling the neck of the figure and penetrating the layers of paint, gesso and papier-mâché. There were losses of paint around the neck and also along external edges. Finally, there was a puncture in the surface of the figure.

Our first task was to examine the surface under UV light. We also conducted cleaning tests to assess the level of cleaning necessary for regaining the colours and the surface appearance closest that that intended by the artist. Areas of flaking paint were consolidated with an adhesive appropriate for both the papier-mâché and gesso layers, which allowed us to then safely carry out further treatments.

The losses were stabilised layer by layer with suitable consolidant or filled with Japanese tissue and starch paste to achieve the right shape. After interlaying a barrier layer, the area of losses were filled with a suitable filler, with an elastic component. These fills were retouched with acrylic paint, resulting in an extremely discreet repair.


One challenge of treating contemporary art is that our experts may find themselves in uncharted territory, sometimes being (as far as we can reasonably tell) the first person to treat a particular material.

After a flood, this intricate plasticine artwork was exposed to increased humidity levels, resulting in a layer of crystals forming on its surface.

We sent a sample of the crystals to undergo examination at University College London (UCL). After analysis, our experts concluded that the crystals were most likely to be salts drawn from the plasticine itself.

While any conservation solution must be long-lasting, it is crucial that the treatment is not so aggressive that it causes short or long-term damage to the object. An effective solution was found after in-depth testing.

We also recommended to the client that the artwork be re-glazed with high-quality glass to reduce the plasticine’s exposure to fluctuating levels of humidity in the future.

Sheep, François-Xavier Lalanne

The stone composite and bronze sheep sculpture by François-Xavier Lalanne had been displayed outside; its surface was dirty, with patches of rust staining where the piece had come into prolonged contact with metal.

The stone body of the sheep and bronze elements were cleaned to remove all traces of surface dirt, after which a protective layer of wax was applied.

Rust staining can be quite stubborn: the first thing we did was to stabilise the damage to prevent any further corrosion. The staining was then cleaned with a poultice. Any residual traces of discolouration were sympathetically retouched for a perfect result.