Lichtenstein’s restored ‘Whaam!’ on display at Tate Liverpool


Roy Lichtenstein’s (1923–1997) ‘Whaam!’ 1963 now on display. Tate Liverpool image

LONDON – One of the most well-known works in the Tate collection, Roy Lichtenstein’s (1923-1997) Whaam! 1963, is on display at Tate Liverpool as the gallery marks the start of its 30th anniversary year.

The painting recently underwent ground-breaking conservation using a newly discovered technique which has brought Whaam!’s colors and design back to life.

Due to the popularity of Lichtenstein’s Whaam! the painting has been on almost constant display since it was acquired by Tate in 1966, making it one of the first artworks of its generation to require conservation. The Tate conservators and scientists spent months evaluating different techniques and options on how to clean the painting. They worked closely with scientists from CSGI (Centre for Colloid and Surface Science) in Florence Italy on materials that will take the conservation of modern artworks into the 21st Century. In collaboration with Tate staff, the CSGI scientists have developed a new gel based on nanotechnology called “Peggy 6.” The new gel provides greater control in cleaning a painting. It has been produced through a Horizon 2020 funded research project, NANORESTART.

The materials used to create Whaam! are characteristic of contemporary artworks; unvarnished and unglazed and comprise acrylic solution paint and oil paint on an alkyd-primed canvas. These materials can prove challenging in modern paintings as each paint can respond differently to commonly used cleaning materials. Tate conservators and scientists analyzed the materials in Whaam!, made up test paintings and evaluated the effectiveness of the Peggy 6 gel for cleaning artworks. The gel was gently laid on the paint surface and left for one to 2 minutes to absorb the dirt on the surface before being lifted off. They found the Peggy 6 gel allowed the unwanted soiling to be removed in a safe and controlled manner.

Bronwyn Ormsby, principal conservation scientist at Tate said: “The research, analysis and scientific evaluation required for a complex large-scale treatment such as Whaam! has involved hours of painstaking work and sustained collaboration across specialist teams. The greatest reward is seeing Whaam! revived. The colors are brighter and more true to how they were when originally painted, the lines are crisper and the Ben-Day dots positively zing off the surface. We believe the development of this new gel material is a significant leap forward in the care of modern and contemporary works and it has the potential to be used by conservators around the world.”

The painting will join the Lichtenstein display in Liverpool which has already attracted more than 70,000 visitors since it opened in September.