The Magic of the Conservator: Ensuring Art Does Not Disappear

1347 Words 6 Pages
The Magic of the Conservator – Ensuring Art Does Not Disappear

As with many advances in industry and technology, we can thank war for increasing the interest in research for art conservation. After the Great War, the British Museum unpacked its collections after wartime storage in the Underground railway tunnels. Many items had unexpectedly deteriorated in a relatively short time; iron had rusted, bronze developed green corrosion, pottery and stone objects were covered in growth of salt crystals. The museum then decided to set up a permanent scientific research laboratory to further its understanding of the causes of deterioration of materials and learning methods of treating its effects. Conservation of art is now a full-time
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Since many works of art using non-archival materials have already noticeably changed as they age, conservators are establishing acceptable intervention practices on contemporary work. Restoration is a standard practice in traditional techniques such as oil, tempura, marble, bronze and wood. However, non-conventional materials have required conservators to investigate the artist’s philosophy. If the artist used a specific material to represent artistic expression, restoration of the material may not only change its physical appearance, but its conceptual intent. The American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works (A.I.C.) maintains a code of ethics and recently launched a WIKI for a collaborative knowledge base that conservators can consult.

Eva Hesse is well known for having worked in notoriously archivally unstable materials. In the forty years since her untimely death, her sculptures have chemically restructured themselves. The latex has turned opaque and the fiberglass has grown brittle; more than a dozen works have been deemed “unexhibitable” by curators because her work was not about degradation. Hesse used latex in a way not intended by the manufacturer; casting it and brushing layer upon layer to
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