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Stanford University

Diebenkorn Detective Work

Katherine Van Kirk, ’19, had always dreamed of finding an underpainting—a revelatory work hidden beneath a finished work of art. So, when the Cantor’s Art+Science Learning Lab put out a call for project proposals, she applied. For the engineering physics major whose family has always embraced the arts, the lab provided a unique opportunity to combine her passions.

Soon, with an infrared camera in hand, she went into the Cantor’s galleries, unsure what she would find. But when she pointed the camera at Richard Diebenkorn’s Window—only the second painting she tested—she was amazed to see something revealed under the surface. What makes this particular find so exciting is that Van Kirk discovered figurative images under an abstract painting, executed just as Diebenkorn transitioned from his identification as a founder of the Bay Area Figurative movement to pursuing more abstract work.

A grant awarded by the Bank of America 2016 Art Conservation Project (ACP) allowed the Art+Science Lab to purchase a special infrared reflectography camera, which is capable of more penetrating imaging, said Susan Roberts-Manganelli, director of the lab. In late spring, the painting, the images of the underpainting, and Van Kirk’s conclusions about what she discovered will be on display at the Cantor. Stop by to see what happens when old-fashioned detective work and modern technology are applied to the world of art.