Fritz Glarner artwork shines again in skyscraper lobby restoration

Original Fritz Glarner mural “Relational Painting #88” restored as part of Rockefeller Center skyscraper lobby restoration  

The lobby of 1271 Avenue of the Americas is a New York City landmark. The anchor of the modern expansion of Rockefeller Center to the west side of Sixth Avenue – famous in pop culture for being the fictional office of Mad Men’s Sterling Cooper Draper Price – the former Time & Life Building continues to be regarded as one of the best preserved examples of mid-century modern design and architecture.

An iconic feature of the lobby is the colorful and enormous Fritz Glarner mural, “Relational Painting #88.” As 1271 Avenue of the Americas underwent renovations over the past several years, Rockefeller Group consulted ArtCare Conservation to protect and restore Glarner’s artwork.

The first step was to protect the piece from dust, debris, and vibration during renovations. A long fiber tissue was fixed to the surface of the painting with a water-soluble adhesive. The paper protected the painting from dust, small debris, and any vibrations that could shake the paint loose.

With the mural protected, care was then taken to remove the protective tissue, and the restoration process began. Over the years, Glarner’s mural had naturally begun to yellow.  It’s unknown if a coating or varnish was added to the mural at the time it was painted, or in later years, but it was determined that the acrylic resin needed to be removed to reveal the brightness of the original work.

Photo of the artist Fritz Glarner signing his mural, "Relational Painting #88," 1960
June 20, 1960, the American abstract artist Fritz Glarner signs his recently completed mural “Relational Painting #88” in the lobby of 1271 Avenue of the Americas, the first building developed in the modern expansion of Rockefeller Center to the west side of Sixth Avenue.
A photo from 1978, showcasing the prominence of Fritz Glarner's "Relational Painting #88" in the lobby of 1271 Avenue of the Americas,
Fritz Glarner’s Relational Painting #88,” a 40- by 15-foot oil on canvas, spans the width of the elevator core of 1271 Avenue of the Americas in 1978. The mural, which utilizes primary colors of red, blue and yellow, was intended to depict the movement and rhythms of the city, according to the artist. Glarner completed the work in six sections in his studio in Huntington, Long Island.

The team discovered each color area varied in thickness and texture, so each square was required to be treated as its own painting. Different colors had different solvent sensitivities. The red, yellow and black squares had a different sensitivity to acetone solvent than the white, gray and blue squares. After carefully removing the yellowed coating over a span of two months, the ArtCare team used syringes to inject adhesive into the base of the painting to stabilize the paint onto the canvas – and even in some places the canvas onto the wall.

Varnish was added last to saturate the colors and bring them back to life—the blacks darker, reds deeper, and yellows brighter. The finishing varnish snapped the whole mural into focus and the pattern of trapezoid shapes became clear again.

Now Glarner’s mural, completed in 1960, is restored to its best condition for tenants and visitors to enjoy for years to come, and 1271 Avenue of the Americas continues to be a devoted host.

A photo of the restored "Relational Painting #88," Fritz Glarner's 1960 work of art in the lobby of 1271 Avenue of the Americas, April 2019.
The restored artwork contrasts sharply with the original stainless steel elevator core and signature white and gray terrazzo floor, adding texture, depth and vibrancy to the otherwise crisp, minimalist lobby.