American sculptor Charles Ginnever’s Green mountain blue II sits atop a small windswept hill in an open valley along the Monaro Highway – approximately seventeen kilometres north of Cooma in New South Wales.
John Kahlbetzer, then owner of the property on which the sculpture sits, commissioned the work in 1978. Ginnever flew to Australia and, with Kahlbetzer’s boat-building crew under his direction, had the work completed and installed later that year. It was donated to the National Gallery of Australia in 1981.
Situated in a paddock often used by grazing sheep, Green mountain blue II has been exposed to the elements for over thirty years. The wind, rain and sun over such a long period severely damaged the paint layer, causing visible corrosion over most of the surface. Graffiti, livestock and birds also contributed to its deterioration.
Green mountain blue II was originally intended for the Gallery’s Sculpture Garden and was to be relocated once the trees in the garden had grown sufficiently. This never occurred, however, and the sculpture has since become a local artistic landmark despite initial rumours that it had more sinister purposes: ‘I soon heard a rumour that the local people assumed my sculpture to be a CIA tracking station, knowing it was made by an American’.
Easily accessible to passers by (as evidenced by the amount of graffiti on the sculpture), the work was inspected by the Gallery’s conservation staff in February 2007, who assessed the necessary amount of restoration work required to rejuvenate it.
In August 2007, Green mountain blue II was disassembled and transported to Queanbeyan for conservation work under the management of the National Gallery of Australia’s objects conservators and subcontractor Conservation Works. The entire surface of the object was sandblasted to remove the degraded paint layer and surface corrosion, then primed and repainted. A sample of the original blue paint was taken for future reference before applying the new colour, ‘Harbour Blue’, chosen in consultation with the artist and curatorial and conservation staff.
The sculpture is made from four steel I-beams. Three of the beams are bolted to a concrete footing and the fourth beam is cantilevered at one end, balanced with an opposing beam via a high-tension cable – before reinstalling the work, an engineer examined the condition of the high-tension cable and other fittings. The conservation treatment was a great success and Green mountain blue II was reinstalled in its original picturesque location in October 2007.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010