Two new exhibitions at the Indianapolis Museum of Art explore the intertwining roles of science and technology in understanding and preserving valuable works of art.

“What Lies Beneath: Secrets Under the Surface of Paintings,” on display in the Damon C. and Kay D. Davis Lab, is the second exhibition in the CSI (Conservation Science Indianapolis) Series.

The exhibition illustrates how X-ray and infrared imaging technologies can reveal important clues hidden beneath the surface — clues that provide curators, conservators and conservation scientists with critical information on the authenticity of the work and original intent of the artist.

Three paintings from the IMA collection were selected for the exhibition, because of the facts they reveal when examined with X-ray or infrared imaging. One example is Charles Baugniet’s famous oil painting, “Washington’s Birthday” (1878). Through an interactive touchscreen, guests can see the hidden objects and details that were discovered beneath layers of this painting. When revealed, a new scene emerges.

Story continues below gallery

Visitors can explore the details of these stories and try their hands at using an infrared camera to examine and interpret paintings.

On display in the Susan and Charles Golden Gallery, “Chemistry of Color” is the third exhibition in the CSI series. It tells the history of the search for new and brilliant colors by artists, as well as the intertwined stories of some of the scientific breakthroughs that created them.

Historically, artists’ pigments came from odd sources, like cow urine and arsenic poisons. Some of these unusual colorants, like the carmine dye extracted from crushed insects, are still used to color artworks and foods today.

The exhibition explores the rich history and chemistry of 12 colorants. One featured in the exhibition, Egyptian blue, was recently discovered by IMA’s Otto N. Frenzel III Senior Conservation Scientist Greg Smith along with scientists at Curtin University to benefit modern fingerprint analysis. The exhibition also offers an opportunity to view the blackest material on earth, Vantablack.

“What Lies Beneath” runs until Aug. 6 and “Chemistry of Color” is open until Dec. 31.

Both exhibitions are included with general admission and free for IMA members.

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