national museum of mexican art

Scientists Hope to Uncover Mysteries of National Museum of Mexican Art Paintings

Scientists have employed high-tech tools to learn about the origin of six paintings at the National Museum of Mexican Art

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Centuries-old paintings, of which little is known about, have become the subjects of scientists who were brought to Chicago's National Museum of Mexican Art in Harrison Park.

As part of a collaboration with Northwestern University and the Art Institute of Chicago. two scientists from the Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts spent two weeks inside the museum, analyzing six 18th and 19th century paintings from the Nuestras Historias exhibition.

“Were these paintings made in America?" asked Rebecca Meyers, permanent collection curator at the NMMA. "Were they made in Europe, or were materials from the Americas taken to Europe, produced into paints and brought back? That’s what we are hoping to determine.”

Very little research has been done on Colonial Latin American Art here in the United States, and for small neighborhood museums like the NMMA, they can’t afford to have a scientist onsite. So, they're especially grateful for help from the scientists.

“We pack up our instrumentation, and then, we drive or fly to different museums," says scientist Marc Vermeulen. "We gather the information and then go back to the university to do data interpretation."

The scientists use high-tech tools like hyperspectral imaging and an X-ray machine to understand the kind of paints and pigments the artist used.

“Some of the scans that we’re doing may take quite a while, so they may last for two to three days, but at the end it’s worthwhile, to really take the time to do that with great care," said chemist Alicia McGeachy.

The data collection process takes about two weeks. Then, it will take several months for the scientists to analyze the information.  

"Certainly Mexican Art in the U.S. has been under-exhibited and underappreciated," Meyers said. "I think to call attention to it and investigating it scientifically is a step in the right direction.” 

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