ÁGNES, TÍMÁR-BALÁZSY, and DINAH EASTOP, eds. INTERNATIONAL PERSPECTIVES ON TEXTILE CONSERVATION. London: Archetype Publications, 1998. 169 pages, softcover Ł28.50. Available from Archetype Publications, 6 Fitzroy Square, London W1P 6DX, UK. ISBN 1-873132-21-2.
This publication compiles papers presented at two meetings of the Textile Working Group of the ICOM Committee for Conservation, held in 1994 and 1995 in Amsterdam and Budapest, respectively. The Textile Working Group is an active group of textile conservators from all over the world. One or more topics of study are declared for each three-year period between ICOM-CC meetings, and in this period, there are interim meetings of the Working Group. These meetings provide an opportunity for communication among conservators from countries that have a tradition of textile conservation but historically little contact with countries outside their immediate area. The nationality of the participants reflects the locations of the meetings, with primarily Western European conservators at the first meeting and a strong contingent of Eastern Europeans at the second.
The book contains papers from authors representing 15 different countries; since many of the authors are not represented in English-language conservation publications, this is a welcome opportunity to hear from them. It is especially interesting to read the 11 Hungarian papers and to learn about the long history of textile conservation in Hungary. The publication is apparently intended for textile conservators who could not attend the meetings, with the aim of presenting an international overview of textile conservation practice.
The papers were not peer-reviewed and are published as submitted. It is always difficult to effectively produce in writing a paper that was written as an audiovisual presentation, and peer review would have pointed out the many areas that needed explanation or amplification. As it is, most of the papers raise questions that are not answered. Many papers are very brief, offering only cursory descriptions of treatments and concepts. Several papers do not include enough illustrations to make the text comprehensible, and a number of the papers are not illustrated at all. As a result, the publication does not effectively communicate the information presented at the meetings.
The first section contains eight papers that were presented at the two-day meeting held in Amsterdam on October 13—14, 1994. The meeting had two themes: the first day was devoted to synthetic materials, and the second to cleaning. The introduction mentions quite a few papers that were presented but are not published here. Thea B. van Oosten gives a very general overview of synthetic materials often found in costume accessories. Marion Kite and Audrey Hill discuss uses for synthetic materials in mount making for costumes and accessories. An innovative and relatively economical approach to the support of tapestries is presented by Sheila Landi. Lynda Hillyer gives a well-thought-out classification of textiles that would be suitable for adhesive treatment, along with an update on the adhesive testing program at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Foekje Boersma describes the cleaning of an Indonesian flag. Sarah Howard discusses the different approaches to wet-cleaning of carpets used at the Carpet Conservation Workshop and gives several case studies. The use of a water-extracting vacuum cleaner in the cleaning of carpets is presented by Jennifer Barnett. Yvan Maes describes his method of cleaning tapestries by aerosol suction.
The second section of the book contains 29 papers presented at the meeting held in Budapest on September 11—15, 1995. There are references in the introduction and in a few papers to the fact that there are several themes for this meeting, but only ethics is actually mentioned. A check of the newsletter of the working group reveals that the themes are “method versus method,” “ethics in textile conservation,” and “science and practical textile conservation.” Dinah Eastop describes two case studies in which the treatment was determined by the end use and interpretation of the artifact. Michaela Keyserlingk discusses codes of ethics and their limitations and reminds conservators that “true professionalism in the end rests in us.” Eva Möller advocates preventive care of textile artifacts. Two case studies in which treatment was determined by condition of the artifact are presented by Luciana da Silvera. Márta Tésik-Knotik describes her training in textile conservation in Hungary in the 1950s. The history of the use of adhesives in Hungary, along with several case studies, is described by Zoltán Szalay. A very brief description of four case studies is given by Kochavit Shiryon of the Israel Museum. Coral Delgado describes textile conservation in community museums in Venezuela. Lena Engquist Sandstedt presents the principles of flag conservation as practiced in Sweden. A four-year project to restore an 18th-century Chinese door curtain in Lisbon is briefly described by Maria Madalena Farrajota Garcia. Mary Brooks compares and contrasts the codes of ethics of several countries. Ágnes Tímár-Balázsy relates how ethics are taught to students of textile conservation in Hungary. Diploma projects of students at the Textile Conservation Centre are presented by Mary Brooks, with an emphasis on ethical aspects of the projects. Katalin E. Nagy relates several case histories involving ethical problems and discusses how these affected choice of treatment. Tapestry conservation in the Marche region of Italy is described by Maria Giannatiempo Lopez. Erzsébet Vágó presents the restoration of a fragmentary uniform coat. Susanne Cussell gives a very thoughtful discussion of some differences between textile conservation in England and in France, and the possible reasons for them. Galina Grigorieva describes the restoration of Russian folk costumes and headdresses. Nina Piniagina and Elena Mikolaychuk discuss the examination and treatment of some Russian archaeological fragments. The restoration of a 16th-century bonnet is described by Enikö Sipos, and the analysis of the metal threads in this bonnet is presented by Márta Járó, Attila Tóth, and Marta Kiss-Bendefy. Ilona Millei describes the restoration of three painted silk banners. Éva Katkó-Bagi presents the restoration of a badly deteriorated bodice from 1896.The treatment of several archaeological costumes is very briefly described by Zsuzsanna Bakó. Michelle de Brueker discusses the removal of glue from a group of Coptic textiles using wet-cleaning and enzyme treatments. Treatment of a large appliquéd hanging is presented by Tatiana Reicher-Morgenstern. Annemarie Stauffer discusses the consequences of wet-cleaning archaeological textiles and cautions conservators to consider carefully before performing this treatment. The dimensional changes undergone by various mounting fabrics in fluctuating relative humidity are analyzed by Stephen Collins, Marion Mecklenberg, and Mary Ballard.
This publication is of interest, but limited value, to the field of textile conservation. The comparison of conservation methods in various countries is an important aspect of a conservator's education, lending perspective and tolerance. The treatments presented here range from highly interventive restorations to conservative preservation methods, although often the information given is insufficient for really evaluating the treatments. Most of the discussions of ethical issues are thought provoking, and there are a few intriguing treatment techniques. If the papers had been more complete, this could have been a more useful and important publication.
- Deborah Bede
- Stillwater Textile Conservation Studio
- 196 Old Warner Rd.
- Bradford, N.H. 03221
- E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
GUSTAV A. BERGER, with WILLIAM H. RUSSELL, CONSERVATION OF PAINTINGS: RESEARCH AND INNOVATIONS. London: Archetype Publications Limited, 2000. 376 pages, hardcover, Ł35. Available from Archetype Books, 6 Fitzroy Square, London WIT 5HJ, UK, and Talas, 568 Broadway, New York, N.Y. 10012. ISBN 1-873132-37-9.
Gustav Berger, renowned for his development of the adhesive Beva, is among the most extensively published conservators of our time, having authored more than 70 papers internationally in a variety of conservation journals since 1965. This volume compiles his life's work and offers new insights, with much previously unpublished material. Laced with personal observations, treatment tips, and technical caveats, the text merits careful reading and study. This book details Berger's research, innovations, and theories, with highlights of his 50-year career as head of Berger Art Conservation Inc. and director of Research at the Art Conservation Research Foundation (ACRF) in New York City. It is divided in two parts (practical work with case histories, and research), with 144 black-and-white illustrations and 16 colorplates. An aptitude for combining scientific and engineering principles and methodologies, along with his conservation experience influenced Berger throughout his career and in the writing of this book. His ongoing investigations into the deterioration (cracking, cupping, blistering) of canvas paintings and other art objects are carried out jointly with co-author William Russell, assistant professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology College for Architecture. The contents offer a new critical view reevaluating their data in light of the latest developments in painting technology and material science.
The preface recounts the course of Berger's career, which led him to formulate Beva and investigate cracks in paintings. Part 1, “Conservation and Technology,” is the largest part, composed of 15 chapters dealing with practical work in the field of conservation. Berger describes the use of Beva and its derivatives for solving numerous conservation problems such as treatment of paintings with absorbent components, consolidation of interlayer cleaved paint films, lining without a membrane, and transparent lining. Berger also details his other preferred materials and methods for tear repair, inpainting, and varnishing. He discusses his use of water and its hazards, and explains his procedures for vapor treatments, deacidification of canvas paintings, avoidance of weave accentuation, and interference in vacuum lining. Also included are methodologies for unconventional treatments of contemporary paintings and special projects involving very large panorama paintings.
The longest chapter in this first section, detailing the two-year research project on adhesives, is clearly written, presenting diagrams, tables, and detailed descriptions of the materials, samples, tests, and results that led to the formulation of Beva. Berger explains the importance of defining the aims of the research, the accuracy of valid tests, and the cross-checking of all parameters. He also illustrates the testing equipment, the materials tested, and the significant problems encountered such as the discontinuation of some of the tested resins, while candidly discussing the necessary modification of ASTM tests.
In “Special Projects,” Berger discusses his treatments of very large panorama paintings. This section is illustrated with five case studies and the design of novel equipment, which may have broader applications. It is apparent that Berger's education in civil engineering, dedication to research, and cumulative conservation experience enabled him to solve the complex problems these treatments faced. One special project, the conservation treatment of the Atlanta Cyclorama, the largest painting in the world, initiated the ongoing research collaboration with the engineer for the project, co-author William Russell. Their arguments are summarized in Part 2.
Part 2,“Investigations into the Causes of Deterioration of Paintings and Painted Objects,” describes Berger's research with Russell on the factors that contributed to the survival of the panoramas and their ongoing investigation. The authors' initial study suggests that steady, low tensions prevent the formation of cracks even in the absence of climate control. This theory is further applied to a stretched canvas of any size in the chapter entitled “The Role of Tension in the Preservation of Canvas Paintings, the Self Adjusting, Constant-Tension Stretcher.” Berger elucidates their theories on canvas tension, the defects of conventional stretchers, and the design of the first biaxial stress tester constructed to monitor changes in tension in stretched canvas when exposed to environmental fluctuations. Berger and Russell's premise led to the design and manufacture of the self-adjusting constant-tension stretcher. Its successful application is demonstrated with two case studies.
“Effects of the Environment on the Deterioration of Canvas Paintings” summarizes the authors' most important research and findings to date. Their experiments on canvas samples both old and new, painted and unpainted, measured the interaction between the paint film and its canvas support in response to controlled environmental conditions. Their test results indicate that the canvas plays a passive role as long as the paint remains flexible. As paintings on canvas become more brittle with age, irreversible mechanical and dimensional changes occur, which are caused by the paint film and canvas substrate reacting divergently to fluctuating environmental conditions. Notably, tests provided evidence that small, rapid temperature fluctuations (3°C) caused by cycling heating, air conditioning, and illumination, are more damaging than larger humidity changes of 38%. In response to reaching equilibrium with their environment, all stretched canvases return to a value called maximum sustainable tension (MST). Consequently, restretching or keying out a canvas on a stretcher can provide only a short-term increase in tension or rigidity. The authors conclude that as paint loses flexibility with age, reducing the effects of short-term environmental changes by lining canvases to increase their rigidity delays deterioration. Also, the addition of a sealed protective backing board would be beneficial to the painting because it acts as a buffer during environmental fluctuations.
Innovative research results are further demonstrated by observations of cracks in the chapter titled, “The Mechanics of Cracking in Paint Films,” and they are supported by case studies of specific paintings. Berger and Russell theorize that within the range of normal exposure (ideal museum environment), the relationship between the paint and its substrate is more important for the preservation of paintings than normal fluctuations of the environment. A paint film can withstand dimensional changes if it remains elastic and able to absorb plastic deformations in response to environmental changes. A paint film will not crack, for example, if held by a stiff substrate that will not permit it to deform, as Berger and Russell have established in earlier publications. If a painting cannot be maintained in an ideal environment, Berger recommends either softening the paint layer with the infusion of proper plasticizers or stiffening the support. This intervention will offset the stress generated in the paint layer, thus protecting the surface from the effects of changes that accelerate deterioration.
The design and layout of the book are generally excellent. As a textbook it is a comfortable size, well organized, and amply illustrated and indexed. The content of each chapter is abstracted after its title, supported by observations and research, demonstrated by case studies of actual treatments on a variety of paintings, and summarized in “Conclusions.” Treatment details of the varied use and application of Beva adhesives, employing innovative equipment and techniques, are found throughout. The long-term success of each treatment discussed is substantiated by reevaluation of the present condition of each case study. The carefully detailed footnotes and bibliography provide a substantiated reference to previous work, as well as to the findings of others, that supports the premises of the book and the evolution of Berger and Russell's research. Additionally, three appendices provide the design of a low-cost vacuum hot table, recipes, and materials (with producers or suppliers) frequently used in Berger's studio. There is also an index of artists whose treated works are discussed, a glossary, and a rarely found list of assistants employed by Berger's art conservation studio from 1970 to 1992.
Berger makes it clear that conservators must be attentive to the unique conditions of each painting that necessitate a change from usual procedures. In a field where few textbooks exist, this publication offers the practicing painting conservator and the advanced student detailed practical applications of the adhesive Beva during routine as well as complex treatments. Berger's approach to treatments and his landmark research into the cracking of paintings remind us that the individual nature of each painting and the environmental conditions to which it has been and will be subjected require informed assessment and thoughtful treatment design for optimum results and maximum longevity.
Gustav Berger has been consistent throughout his career in generously sharing his conservation knowledge. I have known Gustav since we met at an AIC poster session in the mid-1970s. Since then, I began visiting him to better understand the working properties of his adhesive Beva. With this book, everyone has the opportunity to learn from Berger's extensive knowledge. If you are a practicing conservator currently using Beva, or one who would like to use the adhesive, or one who for some reason hesitates to use Beva, this book is a must read. It should be a required reading for all advanced conservation students.
Berger's research has not only given our field an invaluable new adhesive specifically designed for our purposes but it also has brought answers to the universal question of why paintings crack. This book, which substantiates his discoveries and latest research findings with co-author William Russell, significantly adds to the profession's body of conservation knowledge and paves the way for future research. Intellectually generous and stimulating, this volume comes as a very welcome addition to conservation literature.
- Susan S. Blakney
- West Lake Conservators Ltd.
- P.O. Box 45
- Skaneateles, N.Y. 13152
DANA GOODBURN-BROWN AND JULIE JONES, EDS., LOOK AFTER THE PENNIES: NUMISMATICS AND CONSERVATION IN THE 1990s. London: Archetype Publications, 1998. 99 pages, softcover Ł19.50. Available from Archetype Books, 6 Fitzroy Square, London W1P 6DX. ISBN 1-873132-81-6.
This publication consists of the papers presented at a one-day seminar that followed a three-day international conference on the scientific analysis of coins, held by the British Museum. Both the conference and the seminar aimed at being “multidisciplinary” and covered scientific analysis and experiment as well as general surveys and diverse opinions.
The book is arranged in two major chapters, the first titled “New Developments in Analysis and Conservation” and the second “Screening and Prioritising of Large Excavated Coin Groups.”
In the first chapter, the first three papers by Lee, Ponting, and Goodburn-Brown address different methods of scientific analysis that can be used to provide both the conservator and the researcher with information on the resulting effects of composition, burial, and conservation. The surfaces of coins may be altered significantly by all of these factors, and both physical and metallurgical changes may have taken place that affect interpretation and even future stability. Thorough examination, sampling, and analysis are recommended prior to invasive conservation. The remaining two papers, by Lykiardopoulou-Petrou and Ganiaris, address methods, techniques, and the philosophy of coin cleaning. Numerous examples are presented, including mechanical cleaning using a scalpel, pin, or drill, and chemical cleaning, such as with alkaline rochelle salt or alkaline dithionite.
The second chapter presents a larger group of diverse papers, beginning with the philosophy and ethics of coin cleaning by Reece, who discusses whether priorities can be assigned to specific coins or groups of coins. This concept is echoed in other papers by Neal and Goodburn-Brown and by Watkins and Enderly as the vast quantities of coins retrieved from excavations necessitate some selection for basic economic reasons: both research and conservation are expensive. As a supplement or alternative to cleaning, microscopic examination is discussed by Davies, and digital image processing of x-ray radiographs is presented by Jones, Caple, and Clogg as a progressing analytical method. The cleaning of coin hoards is examined by Watkins and Enderly (spelled correctly in the paper, but incorrectly elsewhere in the book as “Enderley”), and again practical demands must be balanced with the need to acquire and preserve information. The importance of careful analysis and conservation is emphasized in two papers, by Bowsher and Jones, concerning the significance that coin data may have for archaeological site interpretation. The chapter ends with a paper by Lykiardopoulou-Petrou and Beloyannis, which is a brief but important comparison of three different cleaning techniques (electrolytic cleaning, ammonium thiosulfate, and silver dip), which are judged by the resulting physical and chemical appearances.
Lastly, a brief discussion and display section are included. In discussion, the agreement for a liaison and “network” among conservators, archaeologists, and numismatists is a predominant theme.
This book is a very useful collection of current approaches, concerns, and methods used in the analysis and conservation of coins. The papers are short but concise, and the entire volume is well illustrated with both black-and-white photographs and colorplates. Two issues that might have been addressed more fully are the health and safety concerns of using chemicals (this is only mentioned once, by Ganiaris) and proper materials and methods of storage. Perhaps an editorial glossary would also be useful (a few notes are given at the end of the introduction) because much of the terminology on numismatics and metallurgy may not be familiar to all conservators. Otherwise, conservators will find this book useful and thought provoking, for understanding both the philosophy of dealing with coins and the issues of cleaning.
- Stephen P. Koob
- Corning Museum of Glass
- One Corning Glass Center
- Corning, N.Y. 14830
TOBY RAPHAEL, with contributions from NANCY DAVIS, EXHIBIT CONSERVATION GUIDELINES: INCORPORATING CONSERVATION INTO EXHIBIT PLANNING, DESIGN AND PRODUCTION. Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, Division of Conservation, 1999. $49.95. Available from the Harpers Ferry Historical Association, (800) 821-5206.
Exhibit Conservation Guidelines, an electronic publication on CD-ROM, is a “multimedia educational resource created to facilitate the incorporation of conservation into the exhibition design and production process.” In order to read the CD, your computer must be a Pentium processor-based PC, with Microsoft Windows 95/98, Windows NT 4 or later, or a MacIntosh with Power PC. A 4X CDROM drive is necessary, along with 16 megabytes of RAM (24 MB for Windows NT), and 35 megabytes of available space on the hard drive. The space is needed to load Adobe Acrobat Reader 3.01 software, which comes on the Exhibit Conservation Guidelines CD and is necessary to use the search functions. These search functions provide a practical tool that enhances usability. Their benefits will be discussed below.
When I opened the CD-ROM Exhibit Conservation Guidelines, I was enthralled by the first image that develops on the screen: a multimedia museum exhibit that starts out schematic and becomes highly realistic. I was further drawn in by how this “electronic publication” borrows a book format—that is, information appears on your computer screen as if you are viewing text on a page—and the viewer scrolls between blocks of text on pages rather than continuously through text. Exhibit Conservation Guidelines effectively combines the traditional aspects of a book, such as a table of contents, narrative chapters followed by a bibliography, practical and diagrammatic sections, and so on, with the search capabilities of a computer. With the right amount of computer capability one can utilize various index functions.
The principal index function is provided by a set of chapter headings on the left side of the screen, while the chosen page text appears larger on the right side. The user can click on any chapter heading on the left to move immediately to that section on the right. While reviewing one section, the reader has the option of clicking on any highlighted text to switch to another, related section. Once the reader is familiar with the organization of the CD, this search function may be used to link the user to layers of information in greater or lesser detail.
The authors of Exhibit Conservation Guidelines were meticulous in spelling out the organization of the publication, which incorporates repetition in an effort to be inclusive. Following an introduction, a section entitled “How to Use This Publication” explains that there will be three main sections, including “Narrative Guidelines,”“Exhibit Technical Notes,” and “Case Details and Illustrations.”The user is advised that the text does not attempt to provide definitive standards, but instead provides guidelines for safe display and creative solutions for exhibitions.
The narrative guidelines provide the most theoretical discussion and will serve as a review for most conservators experienced with exhibitions. In this section, four major topics are discussed, with numerous subdivisions: “Exhibit Planning,” “General Exhibit Design,”“Exhibit Case Design,” and “Exhibit Fabrication and Installation.” Each of these sections ends with an up-to-date bibliography; websites can be automatically selected by those with Internet access.
The section on exhibit planning defines the role of a conservator in an exhibition, with strong support for conservation participation at every stage of exhibition planning, installation, maintenance, deinstallation, and evaluation. By explaining why this complete participation is so important, this section provides valuable instruction for nonconservation staff charged with setting exhibition policy. While the authors succeeded in making this section complete and very current, there is a tendency toward idealizing. For example, the position of an exhibition coordinator—i.e., a communications facilitator—is not yet mainstream in American museums, and conservators frequently do not have this single source for information dissemination.
The second section, on general exhibit design, effectively encourages the conservator to be part of a team that brings expertise along with flexibility to exhibition design. A strong case is made in this section for the increased choices that come with knowledge about object conditions and the exhibit environment. Subsections within this part include discussions about maintaining temperature and relative humidity; mitigating particulate contamination, chemical pollutants, and insect pests; conservation exhibit lighting, physical security, and exhibition design; and disaster prevention. The search capabilities are extremely useful within these subsections. For example, when reading about physical security, the user can click on key phrases such as “adequate security” to transfer immediately to technical notes that provide practical ideas about how to assess security risks to collections, or s/he can click on physically “resistant construction” to transfer to case details illustrating locking mechanisms.
The next narrative section on exhibit case design provides a comprehensive review of all the variables that must be considered when choosing exhibition cases that meet conservation standards. The first part, which includes five subsections about topics in case design, discusses the use of conservation-grade materials, case security and stability, sealed vs. ventilated cases, and internally vs. externally lit cases. This section should be required reading for exhibition designers. Consistent with the goals of this work, no definitive standards for exhibit case design are recommended here, but the pros and cons of different choices are carefully reviewed.
The final narrative section, on exhibit fabrication and installation, includes the most specific discussion thus far about more and less stable case construction materials. This section is valuable reading for exhibition designers, but it is likely to frustrate knowledgeable conservators who are seeking more detailed and explicit information. The authors have understandably tried to avoid the conflicts and obsolescence problems inherent in recommending specific products.
This section continues with three subsections on exhibition mounts, object installation, and exhibit maintenance. The discussion of mounts divides them into categories of generic and custom. Examples of generic mounts should probably be offered sooner in the text to clarify what the authors mean by this term. We are first told that “a generic mount does not suspend an object” and that these mounts “usually require no consultation with a conservator.” However, mount types listed under generic include “pressure mounts for textiles,” which can refer to a conservation treatment in which a fragile textile is placed tightly between a padded cavity support and Plexiglas for display and storage. Since unique terminology for types of exhibit mounts may be developed within each institution, the authors might have provided more thorough descriptions.
The section on exhibit production and installation provides a comprehensive review of good practice, and it is useful to have a compilation of what the practicing conservator takes for granted. The section on exhibit maintenance struck this reader as very idealistic, as it generally falls to the same collections and facilities staff to prepare the next exhibition and maintain the current exhibits. Procedures recommended in the Guidelines, such as the preparation of a maintenance manual with extensive documentation and the idea of a routine daily objects inspection, may be beyond the resources of most institutions.
In keeping with the organization of this work, the “Exhibit Technical Notes” following the narrative sections offer more concrete suggestions for how to incorporate conservation choices into the exhibition plan. Under “General Planning and Design” are such topics as selecting an exhibitions conservator, establishing conservation criteria for exhibits, dealing with object rotations, selecting taxidermy specimens for exhibit, conducting exhibit maintenance, cleaning exhibit cases, and creating natural and architectural settings within exhibits. This last topic, for example, explains the risks of open water in the exhibit environment and offers substitute materials that may be used to create water in landscape settings.
In considering environmental control, the authors describe different methods for measuring and influencing the relative humidity in exhibit cases. Silica gel is discussed in four technical notes: one describing the product, one describing creative solutions for packaging silica gel to fit into spaces in exhibit cases, and two describing different methods for conditioning silica gel. Pollutant monitoring and pest management are also further discussed.
The next four technical notes are devoted to significant construction details of exhibition cases as they are used both to present and to preserve collections. The first note describes sealing of exhibition cases and frames, including the use of caulks and gaskets to achieve a seal, detecting and quantifying air leakage rates, and filtering air in intentionally unsealed cases. The remaining three notes describe exhibit case lighting, case construction materials, and case glazing materials. The technical notes sections seem as a whole aimed toward conservators working on exhibits. Included are explanations of safe and harmful materials for use in case construction, methods of materials testing, and recommendations for choosing the best woods, plywoods, composite panels, paints, decorative fabrics, etc. for use in cases.
Following the technical notes, Exhibit Conservation Guidelines ends with “Case Details and Illustrations.” These are drawings of different conservationally sound solutions for exhibition furniture. Sketches show various kinds of exhibition cases, along with details of cases to illustrate different kinds of lighting, access, security, and microclimate systems. Techniques described in the technical notes, such as applying barrier film to wooden cases, obtaining good seals in metal casework, and choosing and applying the right type and profile of gasketing, are illustrated in detail here. This section tells the exhibition designer working without a conservator how to incorporate safe materials and design solutions.
Exhibit Conservation Guidelines makes an important contribution to our knowledge about this topic. Its audience is threefold: exhibition staff who are neither conservators nor designers; conservators; and exhibition designers. The old-fashioned among us might have preferred to see it in a book format so it could join other important references on the shelf and so that sections could be assigned for reading to conservation students and interns. The physical organization of book sections in the hard copy that was provided this reviewer assisted in dealing with the numerous subdivisions in the work. However, the search capabilities and image quality on the CD are truly wonderful, and the information is comprehensive. Exhibition designers, an important audience for this work, may find the information more accessible in the CD format. Furthermore, the authors are currently developing a web page accessible at www.nps.gov/hfc/conservation/exhibit/ that will support the publication by adding new technical notes, updating addresses, and adding links to additional websites. Exhibit Conservation Guidelines should become an important reference work for all three of its intended audiences.
- Ellen Pearlstein
- Conservation Brooklyn Museum of Art
- 200 Eastern Parkway
- Brooklyn, N.Y. 11238
TOBY RAPHAEL, with contributions from NANCY DAVIS, EXHIBIT CONSERVATION GUIDELINES: INCORPORATING CONSERVATION INTO EXHIBIT PLANNING, DESIGN AND PRODUCTION. Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, Division of Conservation, 1999. $49.95. Available from the Harpers Ferry Historical Association, (800) 821-5206.
In general, I found the CD format of Exhibit Conservation Guidelines very helpful. I used the CD in a wide variety of computers around the museum and had no trouble even on the slower machines. I found the requirements to be reasonable. I read the Guidelines, for the most part, on a Toshiba Satellite Pro, 470CDT laptop. The navigational map was clear, and color-coded icons for the three divisions (“Narrative Guidelines,” “Exhibit Technical Notes,” and “Case Details and Illustrations”) were very helpful. The hypertext is a great idea, and I suspect that I will use it more frequently over time. Initially, however, I avoided using this function so that I didn't lose my way as I went through the text for the first time. The design of the publication supported the organization of the material and reinforced the ideas in each section. The check boxes that summarize the main points of the material and sidebar comments that introduce each chapter were very helpful in my initial scan of the document. The charts, diagrams, and illustrations were clear and easy to understand. The targeted user of the manual is a mid-to large-size institution or one that is forming a special project team. Aesthetic concerns are wisely avoided, but omitting any reference to them is problematic for me. In general, there is a good balance in concerns of different types of institutions—history, natural history and science museums, and art museums.
Section A: 4, the discussion of display alternatives, should include a note stating that the design of the installation should accommodate all objects involved in the rotation cycle. This topic is covered in Technical Note 1:6 and is linked by hypertext, but it could be mentioned in this section, too. When displaying sculpture (large and small), it is generally desirable to exhibit it without protective enclosures for aesthetic reasons. The discussion in “Open or Closed Display” (Section B: 2) focused on economic considerations. The concerns regarding the safety of the object remain, but aesthetics are also a factor in the decision on whether to provide an enclosure. Section B: 6, “The Effects of Color Temperature on Perception,” discusses the effects of CRI on the perception of an object. There is no mention of working with combinations of light sources (filtered daylight, tungsten, halogen, and fluorescent). Although this decision is an aesthetic concern, a mention of it would be helpful to the viewer.
Section B: 6 was particularly useful and concise. The resources and products listed are all ones that I have tried and found to be invaluable. In Section 4, on case lighting, the discussion of diffusion should include mention of controlling glare (for example, the use of louver materials such as Cool Shade and parabolic eggcrate). This is another aesthetic concern that could at least be referenced as a lighting issue.
In general, I found this section to be amazingly comprehensive and well organized. It will serve as an excellent reference (or at least point of departure) for virtually any case design. Of particular note is Section 3: C. Recent advances in the design of supporting hinges by at least one manufacturer (Helmut Guenschel) have improved access to case interiors. These new hinges can support the swing of large-scale glass doors. For example, in a recent installation of our Egyptian Collection, 8 x 8 ft. doors made of 6 mm laminated glass can swing open unsupported.
- Jeffrey Strean
- Exhibit Designer
- Cleveland Museum of Art
- 11150 East Blvd.
- Cleveland, Ohio 44106-1701
ERNST VAN DE WETERING, REMBRANDT: THE PAINTER AT WORK. Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam Press, 1997. 340 pages, hardcover $79.50. Distributed in North America by the University of Michigan Press, 839 Greene St., POB 1104, Ann Arbor, Mich. 48106-1104. ISBN 90-5356-239-7.
Did we really need another book on Rembrandt's techniques? It might not have seemed so, considering recent excellent publications such as Art in the Making: Rembrandt from David Bomford et al. at the National Gallery, London, in 1989 or Rembrandt/Not Rembrandt in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Paintings: Problems and Issues, by Hubert von Sonnenburg, 1995. But if you could own only one book on Rembrandt's technique, I'd recommend The Painter at Work. The other two books are outstanding but were assembled in fairly short timelines to coincide with exhibitions, while Ernst van de Wetering has been working continuously on Rembrandt since May 1968, when he was a temporary research assistant participating in the first research excursion by members of the Rembrandt Research Project. Van de Wetering, who now heads the project, has had the estimable support of the Central Research Laboratory for Objects of Art and Science in Amsterdam since 1969 and the University of Amsterdam since 1987 as he gathered his research materials. He is an art historian but writes of technical matters as comfortably as if he were an experienced paintings conservator. (He was originally trained as an artist.) Would that more artists had the rich technical historiography represented by the likes of van de Wetering, von Sonnenburg, and Bomford and his National Gallery colleagues. The intended audience includes “colleagues in the fields of art history, restoration, and scientific inquiry” and painters, in addition to students in art history and restoration and young scientists. It is not meant to be limited to Rembrandt scholars. While reading the book, I found myself making constant notes about how to write better about living American artists. To me it represents the highest standard of scholarship in art technical writing combined with passion for the subject.
The book is composed of 11 chapters. Each could be an elegant stand-alone essay on the topic presented. Several of the chapters had been published earlier in separate form. The book has given the author “the opportunity to adapt, expand, and update” the earlier publications. The author's own knowledge of many languages in addition to his recruitment of skilled translators has enhanced the understanding of historical sources and the breadth of the philosophical insights. (As Oscar Wilde wrote, “Language is the parent, not the child, of thought.”) The book is copiously illustrated with glorious color and clear black-and-white photographs of paintings (100 by Rembrandt with accompanying comparisons), fascinating photomacrographs, contemporary prints, and analytical results such as x-radiographs and charts on thread counts or the identification of pigments and media. Appended are a biographical outline, a chronological list of works in the book, a concordance, extensive notes, a glossary, an index, and a substantive bibliography. I would like to have a sabbatical devoted to reading every reference listed in the endnotes.
Laura Drysdale, in her talk on “The Language of Conservation: Applying Critical Linguistic Analysis to Three Conservation Papers” at the International Council of Museums Conservation Committee meetings in Lyons, France, in September 1999, called for conservators to use language that is “unashamedly subjective and can express the passion conservators feel in their work.” As the 11 chapters proceed, van de Wetering, although he is an art historian rather than a conservator, provides increasingly passionate descriptions of color, brushwork, tone, and impact on the viewers. His final “Epilogue on Quality” is a contagious piece of hedonistic writing that would delight Ms. Drysdale. I wish I could reproduce all six pages of what he calls his “personal remarks,” which discuss “the bodily experience” of viewing Rembrandt's work. Highlights include:
The tracks of Rembrandt's hand, the visible brushstroke, always had a strong impact on viewers of his work. … The fact that a bodily sensation is involved in what seems to be “only” a visual activity—looking at art— may already have been known in Rembrandt's time. … I am fascinated, even moved in a mysterious way, by Rembrandt's brushwork. … Our reception of these lines and brushstrokes is, I believe, influenced by the fact that the movements we observe are as it were echoed in our own bodies in the sense that we latently participate in these movements. Everybody knows that one experiences intense pleasure in observing spontaneity, whether in watching people engaged in sport, a skilled craftsman, or an artist at work, because we experience what we see not only with our eyes but with our whole body … like the tracks of a skater scored in fresh ice.
(This description concurs with a remark from the artist Wayne Thibaud on looking at another artist's work in the Metropolitan Museum of Art with New York Times critic Michael Kimmelman, quoted in his 1998 book Portraits: “It's so good it almost makes my arm ache just thinking about how he did that.”)
Van de Wetering's passion for his subject is thoroughly grounded in documentation. He incorporates the closest observation of the actual works of art, scrutiny of contemporary accounts, and cutting-edge analytical work. He loops the entire book with visits by contemporaries to the studio of Rembrandt—an accountant who visits the artist at the age of 26 in 1632 in the first chapter, and the visit of Cosimo de Medici to the “famous” older artist in 1667 in the last chapter. Chapters 2 and 5 provide encyclopedic detail on Rembrandt's choices of panels, canvases, and grounds. Chapter 5 on canvas is a complete account of contemporary practice, close observations of thread counts, selvages, cusping (primary and secondary), and the importance of investigating weaves, about which he notes that he differs from Hubert von Sonnenburg, chief paintings conservator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (109). (He also disagrees with von Sonnenburg's view that Rembrandt first sketched with white chalk on dark grounds .)
In the course of the book, van de Wetering bravely goes on to revise observations published by other esteemed modern experts such as Hermann Kühn of Germany and Raymond White of the National Gallery, London, as well as older authors Charles Eastlake, Max Doerner, and Jacques Maroger. He notes that Kühn sorted Rembrandt's grounds into four groups in error by often sampling only one layer from the multilayered preparations instead of doing consistent cross sections (20—21). He also notes that the young Rembrandt was probably not “experimenting with grounds” as Kühn and Richard Buck wrote that he was because the grounds may have been prepared by someone else (17, 22). He challenges Raymond White's findings at the National Gallery, London (using gas chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry), that Rembrandt used nothing besides linseed or walnut oil in his painting media. Close observations of the paint surface indicated to van de Wetering that something must have been added to manipulate the rheology of the paint, possibly creating emulsions. Using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), his Dutch colleagues found evidence of the addition of egg to oil to preserve the topography of Rembrandt's brushstroke in some passages (238). Using Fourier transform infrared spectrometry (FTIR), a sugar or gum such as cherry gum was found in a red glaze, and animal glue was found in a cross section containing smalt (240, 241). The author unravels Maroger's “myth” of Rembrandt's making his own materials (8) and what he calls the “glazing myth” perpetuated by Max Doerner (193). (He notes that Doerner's highly convincing but inaccurate explanations caused fierce resistance to cleaning Rembrandt's paintings in German-speaking countries.) He explains that the phenomenon of oil paint's becoming more transparent with time was not known to Charles Eastlake in the middle of the 19th century (228), so Eastlake and others assumed that resins must have been mixed into the paint to achieve the translucencies they observed in Rembrandt's now aged paintings. Both Sir Joshua Reynolds and Maroger mistakenly hypothesized the addition of wax (229). The author muses that without analytical support, “the painter's eye does not reveal the truth.” (Michael Daley of Artwatch, please take note.) However, van de Wetering praises the research on Velásquez published by Gridley McKim Smith (165) and research on Van Goyen published by Melanie Gifford (86—87).
Other noteworthy revisions put forth include the use of small palettes of pigments prepared only for certain sections of a large work, the use of erasable drawing tablets to explain the absence of preparatory drawings on paper, and the likelihood that 17th-century Dutch artists sat rather than stood while painting. The author returns often to the painting illustrated on the front of the book, Rembrandt's The Artist in his Studio, ca. 1629, which illustrates small palettes on the wall and the areas worn by scuffing feet in the crossbar of the easel while the artist was at work, seated. He also uses this painting to discuss the importance of “idea” for Rembrandt's pictorial concept—the artist is standing in this image because he is involved in the important activity of thinking.
In the chapters on style and painting technique, brushwork and illusionism, and methods of working, the author notes that Rembrandt created his paintings from back to front (backgrounds are often very highly finished in unfinished paintings), was very concerned about “houding” (the unambiguous positioning of elements from back to front in relation to one another, near and far), and carefully manipulated light and brushwork. Rembrandt challenged the “heritage of Apelles” (that light passages advance and dark ones recede) in The Night Watch by placing the figure of Banning Cocq in a jet black costume successfully down front while the luminous figure of a little girl in yellow in the center left “withdraws” appropriately behind. Writings by Rembrandt's pupil Samuel van Hoogstraten are used to elucidate Rembrandt's practice of using rough brushwork to cause compositional elements such as hands and sleeves to come forward by their substantial materiality while smooth brushwork is more effective for skies and clouds in the distance. The “thickness of air” may cause elements that are farther back to appear somewhat blue or blurry through sfumato.
The practicing paintings conservator and discerning curator could benefit from chapter 10, van de Wetering's reflections on “The Impact of Time and Rembrandt's Ideas on Colour and Tone.” The author first dispels the idea that Rembrandt might have used toned varnish; a trace of the first layer of varnish was preserved on The Night Watch, beneath some later 17th-century repaint, and it seemed to be completely clear. He also notes that the concept of Father Time applying a patina was not yet prevalent in the 17th century. Rembrandt did paint corrections on top of varnishes, but these have been generally stable. Rembrandt used only a few pigments likely to change; the author traces sporadic uses of smalt and organic yellow. He notes that grounds darkened by wax impregnation, when the ground color was important to the overall tone, may cause a problem. He feels that tonal relationships are generally pretty well preserved, and there is usually no reason to leave on a veil of yellow varnish. However, if the houding (explained above) is distorted by uneven aging, it might be justified.
I am hard-pressed to find weaknesses in the book. I can say it is not the source to consult for study of the artist's etchings or drawings. These are included only to elucidate discussions of related paintings.
The author notes that even Rembrandt's contemporaries found the artist to be untamed, and they found his technique—especially his late technique—to be a “cause for wonderment.” Van de Wetering notes, “Joyfully, I had to admit that in the end Rembrandt could not be fully “domesticated.'” However, the author has written a fully compelling and convincing tome that infects readers with his own passion and sense of wonder. If he couldn't “domesticate” Rembrandt, he has certainly documented him elegantly in his wild state.
- Dr. Joyce Hill Stoner
- Professor and Paintings Conservator
- Winterthur/UD Program in Art Conservation
- Winterthur Museum
- Winterthur, Del. 19735
MIGUEL ANGEL CORZO, ED., MORTALITY IMMORTALITY? THE LEGACY OF 20TH-CENTURY ART. Los Angeles: Getty Conservation Institute, 1999. 192 pages, softcover $39.95.Available from Getty Trust Publications, 1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 500, Los Angeles, Calif. 90049. ISBN 0-89236-528-5.
This handsome, oversized paperback volume, with its holographic cover, is the result of a conference held at the Getty Center in Los Angeles March 25—27 1998.Virtually postprints of the conference itself, the printed version of the papers benefits greatly from the high-quality illustrations, which sometimes were, but sometimes were not, an accompaniment to the presenters' words from the podium.
The topic of the conference, and of the catalog, is the preservation of contemporary artworks, and the invited authors include some of the biggest names in contemporary art, including curators like the Museum of Modern Art's (MOMA) Robert Storr and Peter Galassi, and Ann Temkin of the Philadelphia Museum of Art; art institution directors like Catherine David of Documenta X and Jurgen Harten of the Kunsthalle Dusseldorf; and conservators and scientists from MOMA, the Tate Gallery, the Musée Nationaux de France, the University of Delaware, and the Canadian Conservation Institute. A number of famous artists were also present, among them David Hockney, Judy Chicago, Bill Viola, Tony Cragg, Helen Escobedo, and R. B. Kitaj. Their transcribed presentations, and those of others concerned with different aspects of the contemporary art field, totaling 30, form the core of Mortality Immortality?, the book.
We art professionals whose lives are given over to the matter of the longevity of contemporary artworks are presented with a great deal of food for thought in this volume. While conservators who take care of traditional artworks—paintings by Botticelli or sculptures by Rodin, say—have a fixed set of parameters and a finite number of materials to consider, those of us who make decisions about the future of the artwork of the late 20th century are faced with constantly moving goalposts. The Getty Conservation Institute conference was assembled to address how, or even if, the challenging works of art that are currently filling the world's museums and galleries should be preserved. This volume reflects the many varying opinions on the subject, but draws no conclusions.
An aspect of the conference that cannot be conveyed in the written version is the relationship between the speakers and the audience. In a few cases, the audience, impressive itself in the level of sophistication represented by the art professionals present, was far more knowledgeable about the subject of preservation than the speakers were. Several artists, among them David Hockney and the colorful textile artist Sheila Hicks, freely acknowledged a total lack of interest in the subject. Artists whose intent flies in the face of preservation, like Helen Escobedo (who recycles her installations toward needy recipients), presented eloquent explanations for their methods and rationale. Escobedo's talk is equally readable in the printed version.
Several artists, those who launched into a polemic of their own political agendas, do not belong in this volume at all. This group includes San Francisco's Keith Morrison who, rather than considering the matter of preservation, instead decries the lack of African American artists represented in museum collections or, in the case of museums who live up to his expected quota, criticizes white people for being the ones to choose African American art for public viewing. Performance artist Joyce Scott similarly chooses to ignore the entire topic of the conference, retitling the subject “Immortality/Immorality” in order to similarly present her views on the black/white situation in contemporary art. Chicago, while touching on matters of longevity for her own art installations like The Dinner Party and The Birth Project, seizes the moment to hold high the torch of feminism in “Hope Springs Eternal: One Artist's Struggle for Immortality.” Her complaints about being her own curator and conservator are, in my experience, exaggerated, as I have personal knowledge of museum conservators who have thoughtfully accommodated her challenging installations.
On the other hand, many of the authors present profound ruminations on the subject of contemporary conservation. The dilemma of how much intervention is appropriate was summarized up by Thomas Messer, director emeritus of the Guggenheim Foundation. He tells, in his essay “Art Museum Criteria,” of an incident at the Guggenheim when several paintings had been vandalized by a guard. Rather than giving in to strong suggestions to protect the canvases with glazing, however, he rejected the concept, explaining to his curators and conservators that “There are many ways to destroy a painting, one of them by rendering it invisible.”
MOMA curator Rob Storr notes in “Immortalite Provisoire” that “fragility is a part of modernism.” He cites the example of Joseph Beuys's vitrines in which animal fat and aged sausages are presented until they no longer represent anything like the original intent of the artist. Storr puts his finger precisely on the element that separates the preservation of a Canaletto, forever frozen in time in 18th-century Venice, from that of an early Rauschenberg, which seeks not to re-create America in the 1950s but rather to be “forever new or always available to the viewer with an undiminished immediacy.” Noting that none of us can cheat fate, he acknowledges that we are forced, in matters of life and of art, to “choose mortality” in the case of artworks that are not built to last.
Painter R. B. Kitaj notes that the destiny of art lies in the hands of those who come later because most art is “not in tune with its own times.” He also writes, in “Look at My Picture,” that he has observed his own Prussian blue pigments “crack interestingly,” but he is not in “love with technology” and leaves those matters to others.
Conservator Jim Coddington of MOMA is emphatic that “contemporary art is not only for contemporary times,” and he presents a call to action. “A careful consensual balance is required,” he quite rightly notes, further suggesting that artists be interviewed on videotape for posterity at the time that their artworks are acquired by museums. Other means of communication between artist and conservator are offered in his piece “The Case against Amnesia,” all of them requiring serious funding, such as the quantitative analysis of changes in artists' materials, and the sharing of technical information from conservators to artists.
In that regard, Roy Perry, head of conservation at London's Tate Gallery, tells of artist Ian Davenport's consultation with him on his choices of paint, and he adds that all artists, in his experience, enjoy discussing their technical problems with specialists. Perry (“Present and Future”) also acknowledges that conservation concerns can lead to the rejection of artworks as potential acquisitions at the Tate.
Ann Temkin, Philadelphia's 20th-century curator, is particularly articulate about a “collective belief in the sense of permanence” of museum collections, while citing an example of just the opposite: Zoe Leonard's Strange Fruit, an installation of decaying orange and banana peels that have been re-closed with zippers and stitches. She also acknowledges a resigned “fiction of forever and the fiction of certainty,” noting that “there can be beauty in loss.” Her piece, also titled “Strange Fruit,” is among the most eloquent.
Jurgen Harten also waxes philosophical, in “For Example—Examining Pollock,” about the decreasing importance of originality and the easy availability of “electronic substitutions,” which make artworks less unique and irreplaceable. In considering what a work of art means to us, he calls up the example of Walter Benjamin's “aura” as that essential, elusive element that cannot be restored.
MOMA's curator of Photographs Galassi acknowledges in his essay that “everything must perish … We have … to confront this cruel dilemma: The very pictures we care most about are the ones we will want to see and display most often, and we have to understand that in doing so we may be using part of their lives.”
Some of the most articulate observations come from Bill Viola and the Guggenheim curator who organized his current traveling exhibition, John Hanhardt. The video artist had been sobered to discover that some of his works from the 1980s were already not playable. In a chapter that reads very much like Viola's art appears, the Zen-inspired video artist thoughtfully considers every aspect of his craft, including its future. Among the many useful conclusions that he draws is this one: “There is an urgent need to reconcile … technical information with the systems already in place for the care of art objects. … This is where there is a huge gap in the field and, therefore, a huge window of opportunity for the young conservators of today.”
Tony Cragg has no time for the concept of artistas-conservator. His essay, called “Projectiles,” thoughtfully considers the nature of matter. (The artist who works with discarded household plastic objects almost blushed at the conference while admitting, “[Posterity] … is the last thing I want to have to think about. I make embarrassing, silly things sometimes, and it's my right to do that [but] I feel remorse and shame for causing everyone so many problems!”)
Fascinating, and usually undocumented, points of view are also presented in Mortality Immortality? by a lawyer who deals with matters surrounding artists' rights (Thomas Dreier, “Copyright Aspects of the Preservation of Nonpermanent Works of Modern Art”) and a collector of challenging contemporary artworks (Cliff Einstein,“Preserving Now”). In addition, San Franciscan Francis V. O'Connor presents an eloquent defense of the overlooked medium of the American mural, citing the works by Gottardo Piazzoni that were removed from San Francisco's former public library, among others.
An unexpected source of poetic inspiration is scientist David Grattan of the Canadian Conservation Institute. After describing the dilemma of consolidating a deteriorating foam rubber breast, Priere de Toucher, by Marcel Duchamp, he includes in his essay (co-authored with R. Scott Williams) a quote from Albert France-Lanard's Savoir Interroger l'Objet Avant de la Restaurer (1964): “Whether it is a matter of works of art or single objects, they are important not only because they are old or composed of matter, but also because they hold all of what is still alive within them.”
If no definitive conclusions are provided by the publication of these varied papers, many points of view previously unarticulated are presented as a basis for future research. And the documentation of several famous artists' having gone on record about the matter of conservation is extremely valuable for the field.
The principal flaw of the volume in my opinion is the division of the papers into five categories (e. g., “The Challenge of Materials,” “The Ecosystem,” “Present and Future Perceptions”). These seem to be completely arbitrary divisions, as virtually any of the essays could fit under any of the headings.
Although credited to former director of the Getty Conservation Institute Miguel Corzo, the conference and the resulting publication owe the greatest debt to the respected art historian Mildred Constantine, whose brainchild this project was.
- Will Shank
- San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
- 151 Third St.
- San Francisco, Calif. 94103