Every day at 4 p.m., visitors standing in the special exhibition gallery at the Harvard Art Museums in Cambridge, Mass., can watch as a suite of Mark Rothko murals age 50 years in an instant. In that moment, a digital light projector switches off and what was a cohesive series of painted panels, known collectively as the Harvard Murals, suddenly looks disjointed. A beautiful, plum-colored background fades to different hues and the ravages of light and time on a delicate painted surface stand out. In an impressive trompe-l’œil, the murals painted in the 1960s by the famed abstract expressionist suddenly lose their luster.

This trick of time is the result of an innovative conservation tool created by the Harvard Art Museums and the MIT Media Lab for a special exhibition called “Mark Rothko’s Harvard Murals,” on display through July. Rothko’s paintings had originally been commissioned for a penthouse dining room at Harvard’s Holyoke Center, designed by architect José Luis Sert from 1958 to 1965 (now the Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Campus Center). The murals hung there until they began to fade. In 1979, they were rolled, put into storage, and rarely seen by the public. That is, until now. Read More