Art Conservation and The Collector.

Michael Grashe, Bellevue, WA Art Restorator. Article: Art Conservation and The Collector. Art has always been patronized and collected for motives of both love and money (investment). If art is truly worth anything in a material, cultural or aesthetic sense, the roles of the dealer, museum, owner/collector and art conservator all tend to become the same. We are all only temporary custodians of works of art. This attitude has begun to pervade modern art conservation and that is one of the reasons that minimal intervention is a primary goal. Along with this approach there has been almost universal acceptance that preventive conservation is extremely important.

Collectors require the services of an professional art conservator to:

  • periodically monitor condition and recommend changes in environmental conditions that will reduce risk to works or enhance longevity
  • perform routine maintenance on more sensitive pieces
  • perform conservation or restoration treatments that enhance the longevity and appearance of objects

Inventories of art should not only have periodic reviews of their condition but periodic reviews of value (appraisal) to ensure that they are protected for material, aesthetic, and insurance purposes.

Poorly done or misguided intervention is as damaging or more damaging than neglect. There is no substitute for professional conservation.

What is a Preventive Conservation?

Preventive conservation is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT and is the ideal in any situation, as potential damage is recognized and stopped before it occurs. This entails:

  • routine inspection and maintenance
  • working to control climate in display and storage areas
  • understanding the sensitivity of particular objects for travel or display
  • documentation (for insurance purposes, disaster plans, asset assessment)

More emphasis should be placed on maintenance in storage since that is where many climatic and handling disasters occur.

Two very damaging agents to works of art are changes in relative humidity (RH) and the presence of ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

The primary reason to attempt to control (RH) is to control the water content within objects and, by necessity, within their environment are:

  • to reduce dimensional changes that cause stresses...damages
  • to reduce corrosion of metals, glass and ceramics
  • to control the reproduction of biodeteriogens (bacteria, fungi, algae, etc.)

There are some simple passive measures that can be undertaken to buffer or minimize the changes in RH that an artwork will experience:

  • avoid proximity to ventilation system inlets and outlets
  • avoid situations where direct sunlight hits the work
  • place acid-free backing boards on canvas paintings (this not only buffers the humidity changes but protects the verso from mishandling)

The largest source of UV is from natural light. However, once the problem with UV from windows is dealt with, secondary sources (tungsten-halogen & fluorescent lights) should also be corrected. The best example to use is that of a person being left out indefinitely on a Caribbean beach with no sun screen -- not a pretty sight! UV does not have direct effects on most inorganic materials (metal and stone).

What constitutes ROUTINE MAINTENANCE of art objects?

If common-sense environmental factors are under control then most art works will fare very well. Dusting is really the only operation an unskilled person should do. Although feather dusters are common, they should never be used because they are too abrasive. A soft Japanese paste brush or other soft, high-quality brush is all that is necessary for most objects. This operation should not be required more than twice a year or there is something seriously amiss with environmental controls in general.

It is very dangerous to use old recipes or suggestions for surface cleaning paintings. Although these are found in many historic books they are very dangerous in the hands of the uninitiated. It is best to consult a qualified conservator.

There have been many advances in techniques and materials in recent years. Professional conservator must perform restoration and conservation to bring the value of your Fine Art back to its best condition.