Georgia O'Keeffe's Paintings Are Breaking Out in 'Art Acne'—Here’s Why

Dale Kronkright / © Georgia O'Keeffe Museum
Dale Kronkright / © Georgia O'Keeffe Museum

Adolescents aren't the only ones who suffer from acne. Some of Georgia O'Keeffe's paintings from the '40s and '50s have also sprouted a few "pimples" as well, according to Smithsonian.

These tiny bumps that bubble up on the surface of artworks go by different names—including "pimple-like protrusions," "blisters," and "art acne"—but everyone pretty much agrees that they're undesirable. O'Keeffe herself noticed the bumps while she was still alive, but for decades, conservationists and art scholars thought they were merely grains of sand. This wasn't a bad theory, considering that O'Keeffe lived and worked in the New Mexico desert.

However, a team of experts from Northwestern University and the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe recently discovered that the problem is a little more complicated. As it turns out, these pimples are caused by a chemical reaction known as metal carboxylate soaps.

"The free fatty acids within the paint's binding media are reacting with lead and zinc pigments," Marc Walton, a professor of materials science and engineering at Northwestern, said in a statement. "These metal soaps started to aggregate, push the surface of the painting up and form something that looks like acne."

Practically all of O'Keeffe's paintings are plagued by these metal soaps, but her pieces are hardly the only ones. The works of Vincent van Gogh, Rembrandt, Piet Mondrian, and Marc Chagall have also shown signs of "breakouts," as Smithsonian puts it. By some estimates, up to 70 percent of all the world's paintings on public display suffer from the affliction.

While these bumps are sometimes hard to detect with the naked eye, they are destructive and can get worse over time. Even when conservators restore the paintings, the lumps often return with a vengeance.

Fortunately, the team of experts developed an app that lets museum staff turn their smartphones and tablets into a hand-held tool that's capable of monitoring the growth of these pimples. Essentially, the app uses the flash or LED display to reflect light off the painting and capture it in an image. Those photos then get filtered through algorithms that are designed to identify the shape of the surface—including any problem areas. Oliver Cossairt, an associate professor of computer science, likened the smart tool to the "tricorder" from Star Trek, which was used in part to diagnose disease. "It can give you extremely accurate measurements but is also something you can just pull out of your pocket," Cossairt said.

The app is still being tested, but researchers hope to make it available to the public in a year. For conservators, having access to better—and cheaper—measurement tools will help them identify a course of action to protect these artworks, whether it's tweaking the storage conditions or improving the travel containers that carry pieces from one exhibit to the next. "If we can solve this problem, we’re preserving our cultural heritage for generations to come," Walton said.

[h/t Smithsonian]

8 Great Gifts for People Who Work From Home

World Market/Amazon
World Market/Amazon

A growing share of Americans work from home, and while that might seem blissful to some, it's not always easy to live, eat, and work in the same space. So, if you have co-workers and friends who are living the WFH lifestyle, here are some products that will make their life away from their cubicle a little easier.

1. Folding Book Stand; $7

Hatisan / Amazon

Useful for anyone who works with books or documents, this thick wire frame is strong enough for heavier textbooks or tablets. Best of all, it folds down flat, so they can slip it into their backpack or laptop case and take it out at the library or wherever they need it. The stand does double-duty in the kitchen as a cookbook holder, too.

Buy It: Amazon

2. Duraflame Electric Fireplace; $179

Duraflame / Amazon

Nothing says cozy like a fireplace, but not everyone is so blessed—or has the energy to keep a fire going during the work day. This Duraflame electric fireplace can help keep a workspace warm by providing up to 1000 square feet of comfortable heat, and has adjustable brightness and speed settings. They can even operate it without heat if they just crave the ambiance of an old-school gentleman's study (leather-top desk and shelves full of arcane books cost extra).

Buy It: Amazon

3. World Explorer Coffee Sampler; $32


Making sure they've got enough coffee to match their workload is a must, and if they're willing to experiment with their java a bit, the World Explorer’s Coffee Sampler allows them to make up to 32 cups using beans from all over the world. Inside the box are four bags with four different flavor profiles, like balanced, a light-medium roast with fruity notes; bold, a medium-dark roast with notes of cocoa; classic, which has notes of nuts; and fruity, coming in with notes of floral.

Buy it: UncommonGoods

4. Lavender and Lemon Beeswax Candle; $20


People who work at home all day, especially in a smaller space, often struggle to "turn off" at the end of the day. One way to unwind and signal that work is done is to light a candle. Burning beeswax candles helps clean the air, and essential oils are a better health bet than artificial fragrances. Lavender is especially relaxing. (Just use caution around essential-oil-scented products and pets.)

Buy It: Amazon

5. HÄNS Swipe-Clean; $15

HÄNS / Amazon

If they're carting their laptop and phone from the coffee shop to meetings to the co-working space, the gadgets are going to get gross—fast. HÄNS Swipe is a dual-sided device that cleans on one side and polishes on the other, and it's a great solution for keeping germs at bay. It's also nicely portable, since there's nothing to spill. Plus, it's refillable, and the polishing cloth is washable and re-wrappable, making it a much more sustainable solution than individually wrapped wipes.

Buy It: Amazon

6. Laptop Side Table; $100

World Market

Sometimes they don't want to be stuck at a desk all day long. This industrial-chic side table can act as a laptop table, too, with room for a computer, coffee, notes, and more. It also works as a TV table—not that they would ever watch TV during work hours.

Buy It: World Market

7. Moleskine Classic Notebook; $17

Moleskin / Amazon

Plenty of people who work from home (well, plenty of people in general) find paper journals and planners essential, whether they're used for bullet journaling, time-blocking, or just writing good old-fashioned to-do lists. However they organize their lives, there's a journal out there that's perfect, but for starters it's hard to top a good Moleskin. These are available dotted (the bullet journal fave), plain, ruled, or squared, and in a variety of colors. (They can find other supply ideas for bullet journaling here.)

Buy It: Amazon

8. Nexstand Laptop Stand; $39

Nexstand / Amazon

For the person who works from home and is on the taller side, this portable laptop stand is a back-saver. It folds down flat so it can be tossed into the bag and taken to the coffee shop or co-working spot, where it often generates an admiring comment or three. It works best alongside a portable external keyboard and mouse.

Buy It: Amazon

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Can You Spot the Nose-Less Jack-o'-Lantern?

A Halloween brain teaser.
A Halloween brain teaser.

Hungarian artist Gergely Dudás, known online as Dudolf, has clearly taken some inspiration from Martin Handford. His busy illustrations that encourage readers to focus on finding hidden figures is reminiscent of Handford’s Where’s Waldo? series.

Dudás’s latest work is appropriately Halloween-themed and tasks viewers with trying to find the jack-o'-lantern without a nose in a sea of carved pumpkins.

Can you find the pumpkin without a nose?Dudolf

If you found it, congratulations. And for those of you still craving more, we also have this other visual puzzle from Dudás featuring a lone ghost hiding within an army of skeletons.

For more puzzles like this, you might want to check out Dudás’s books, Bear’s Springtime Book of Hidden Things: A Search and Find Adventure ($8), Bear’s Spooky Book of Hidden Things: A Search and Find Adventure ($8), and Bear’s Merry Book of Hidden Things ($12), which are all available on Amazon. He also has a Hidden Art 2021 wall calendar ($15).

If you didn’t find the rhinoplasty-stricken pumpkin, no problem. Scroll down to find the solution below.




The solution.Dudolf

[h/t Insider]

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