Conservators in the spotlight

A new trend in art conservation has conservators working in public places…not in the conservation lab, but in galleries where the public may watch. Is this good for the art? “The public” aren’t wearing lab coats, nor are they always in small groups (more people = more humidity = more damage to works of art). One could also ask, Is it good for the public? Chemicals are (sometimes) involved in conservation. Here is an article from The New York Times that provides interesting background.

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Showtime at the Musée d’Orsay: Watching Varnish Dry

9 thoughts on “Conservators in the spotlight

  1. Andrew Posey

    Although this idea is quite interesting; I don’t believe something so delicately should be handled under such pressures of gawking passer-byes. There is definitely a sense of magic when one sees something so bewildering as the removal of centuries of dust and grime. Beautiful woks of art can be excavated from the ashes, so to speak. This process takes time and is handled delicately by trained people. By putting them on display like an animal, half of their attention is going to be on the painting and the other half is going to be concerned with the public, it’s inevitable. These kinds of people are not some New York style street artists who can make mistakes or quickly throw together some art with spray cans, this type of wok takes months and if donors are interested in seeing such works then they should record the whole process and then do a speed video for purchase so people can see it and prospective donors will be satisfied. Like I said, thought is nice but I don’t think this is the right kind of work that should be portrayed like a circus.

  2. Jonathon Baker

    This article reminded me of my visit to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts over break. There was a room similar to this article, that allowed visitors to peer into the conservators working on an extremely large scale piece. I wish I remembered the piece they were working on, but that is besides the point I wanted to make. I remember the first moments when I looked into the room, it was closed off by glass similar to many of the exhibitions. At first I thought it was just another piece because of the stillness the conservators had. It was almost like they were statues themselves, slow small movements almost like surgeons. The still calm and quiet after realizing there were actual people working on a piece of history was powerful. It truly brought the art to life.

  3. Margaret Sandner-Gialamas

    I can’t imagine the conservators would leave so much potential for the destruction of priceless art. From the picture alone, it seems that the restoration process, while still taking place in the midst of the museum for the public to watch, is carefully guarded behind glass where the general public should (at least) be unable to step behind. We take a risk every day by letting these paintings reside out in the open in such heavily populated areas such as art museums, but such is the purpose of conservation. Though it is certainly a privilege to be able to see such great works of art, the public should not be kept from it.

  4. Luis Hidalgo

    I think that conservation should not be on public display because while the chemicals are important to keep in closed for health reasons, I think it could change peoples pinions on the pieces of art. They may value it less after seeing someone who is not the artist working on the piece. I agree that while the people working on the conservation are trained professionals and working on the pieces of art alone is a great deal of pressure they must overcome, but that the added pressure from random people who may value their opinions on the art more than those who are hired for their knowledge. I see the potential issues arising from open conservation to be the reason to keep them closed, so the environment is controlled and manageable.

  5. will j britt

    I believe conserving art for the public view is a great move for museums for it shows what goes into keeping everything like its original state. It also has show to generate more funding which museums need to be able to keep staff, conserve work, and acquire new art. This conserving art I find is a fantastic idea except for, extensive conservation, where time and patience is needed and their space should be respected in a lab.

  6. Shannon Bremer

    Although conserving art in front of the public is a great way to generate funding and more visitors, I don’t think that this is the best thing for the piece of art. There are a lot of potential risks involved with conservation itself and adding the public element can have even more risks. The added pressure of having hundreds of people watching a conserver work could lead to mistakes being made and thus the piece of art being damaged. While I understand the interest in seeing conservation in process, it would be better for the conservers and the artwork if it was done in a more private setting. It might be more reasonable for museums to consider a semi-public conservation where it is only open for a certain amount of time and only a certain amount of people can come through at a time.

  7. Allyson Kraft

    Knowing and understanding of the potential risks of publicly conserving art, this is a wonderful idea. I believe the risks of pressure from gawking art lovers is a small issue in comparison to the amount of benefits that are the outcome. People become more interested when watching the process so later on they remember the significance of the art and the time put into it. People will have a deeper appreciation for art. Not to mention the large increase in funding for restoration from various places and peoples. The risks aside this is a wonderful and eye opening process. But perhaps a compromise is needed in order to protect the art and feed the people’s interest.

  8. Pratima Kandel

    To be honest, I would love to watch a live conservation take place in a gallery , but in terms of the conservationist , it is a huge pressure for them to give their 100% while working with public observing their every move. However, to watch such hard work put into an art to restore them is a wonderful idea that provides a great appreciation for art.

  9. Sarai David

    As someone who is interested in conservation, I would love to see professional cconservationists at work. However, I think it is dangerous for the art to be exposed to the public, and I think it is dangerous for the public to be exposed to the chemicals that are needed to clean the paintings. I also wouldn’t like to be watched like a zoo animal while going about a very tedious job. I think the end of the article makes a very good point in that constructing the glass cubes could be a waste of money. I think there could be a happy medium. Maybe small tours are only given on certain day and people have to but or reserve tickets in advance. This could be a good way to control the amount of people that are in the room at a given time, but still let the public see the work being done.


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