Martin Puryear's Bearing Witness

Ronald Reagan Building, Washington, DC

Bearing Witness is a significant piece by renowned sculptor Martin Puryear, located in the courtyard of the Ronald Reagan Building/International Trade Center. The abstract sculpture was selected by the General Services Administration from a pool of submissions to accompany the opening of the building in 1998. The abstract piece exemplifies Puryear’s desire to juxtapose an abstract form with the Classical Revival buildings that surround the courtyard.

Standing 40 feet tall and weighing 20,000 pounds, Bearing Witness is constructed of individual patinated bronze sheets that overlap each other and are welded at the vertical seams. The skin was fabricated over a stainless steel armature. The vast size of the monument coupled with its unshielded position in the in the center of an open plaza present the opportunity for deterioration on a large scale.

We were contracted by GSA in 2005 to perform a condition assessment of the sculpture. We thoroughly examined all elevations visually and with field microscopes, using a 60-foot boom lift to access the top of the sculpture. We performed a local solubility test and found that a wax coating was still present and renewable. We identified localized deterioration including corrosion, scratches, and buckling, which tended to occur in predictable areas of the most aggressive exposure. We recommended that Bearing Witness receive limited conservation treatment and its successful routine maintenance continue.