WAACNewsletter
September 1997 Volume 19 Number 3

Articles You May Have Missed

Susana Zubiate, Column Editor

"China's Buddhist Treasures at Dunhuang"

by Neville Agnew and Fan Jinshi in Scientific American, July 1997, v.277, #1, pp. 40-45.

The importance of the Magao grottoes in Dunhuang, China is clearly described and the joint venture undertaken by the Getty Conservation Institute, the Dunhuang Academy, and the State Bureau of Cultural Relics of China for its preservation and conservation is outlined.

Dunhuang is an area in China that lies at the edge of the Gobi and Takla Makan deserts. It provided the last oasis on the ancient Silk Road of China for travelers that would then head West around the Takla Makan Desert. The Silk Road was used from the 4th to the 15th century. Beginning around 360 C.E., and for the next ten centuries, Buddhist pilgrims and monks began to carve caves into a 1,600-meter-long cliff, which is located 25 kilometers southeast of the city. The cliffs which are made of "soft sandstone and conglomerate rock" provided a place where worshippers "built shrines, lodgings, and places for sacred works and art; they also made offerings and prayed for safe passage". The site and grottoes of Magao "represent the largest collection of Buddhist mural art in China and are an unsurpassed repository of information about life in ancient China and along the Silk Road".

Because of its isolated location, the site of Dunhuang survived two eras of Buddhists persecution by Chinese emperors as well as The Cultural Revolution of the late 1960's but not "the systematic discovery and removal of the cultural heritage of the Silk Road", by foreign archaeologists during the beginning of this century. By the mid 1920's when China closed its doors to foreign archaeologists, European explorers had already removed thousands of texts, statues and some wall paintings which are currently housed in major institutions around the world. In 1980 the remaining 490 Grottoes of Dunhuang which house about 2,000 clay statues and 50,000 square meters of wall paintings, were designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Currently the ravages of time, the immediate surroundings, and tourists pose the greatest physical threat to the site. Wind erosion, blowing sand and dust, seeping moisture from rain and snow, and damage from earthquakes are taking a toll on the fragile structure of the caves and the plaster upon which the wall paintings were executed. The Getty Conservation Institute has worked since 1988 with the Dunhuang Academy and the State Bureau of Cultural Relics of China to help conserve the site.

Work to date includes: the building of a five K long windbreak made of "both synthetic fabrics and desert-adapted plants" which reduces the amount of sand being blown over the cliff face by about 60%; the use of dust filters and seals on the doors of the caves; the measuring and analysis of cracks in the caves; and the environmental monitoring of the exterior and interiors to facilitate the development of "tourism strategies". The Dunhuang Academy has built replicas of the ten most popular caves to reduce tourist traffic.


"Going Digital"

by Michael Lesk in Scientific American, March 1997, v.276, #33, pp. 58-60.

Electronic access to digital copies of books, images and recordings. The storage of library materials digitally provides access to fragile, rare materials to many users without risk of damage to the originals. The convenience of retrieval and the space saved (and costs saved) in storage make the initial cost of digital duplication reasonable. The problems and some solutions to digitizing texts and images are discussed. The article also makes reference to a previous article about the preservation of digital materials, "Ensuring the Longevity of Digital Documents", by Jeff Rothenberg in Scientific American, January 1995. One drawback (and additional cost) is that as technology progresses, collections must be transferred from one device to another so that it may be read and with the updating and transfer of information there is an increase in the possibility of loss of information.


"CLARIFYING THE HAZE, Efflorescence on Works of Art"

by Eugena Ordonez and John Twilley in Analytical Chemistry, July 1, 1997, vol. 69, no. 13, pp. 416A - 422A.

The issue of efflorescence is discussed in a project which looked at 19th and 20th century paintings, sculptures and works of art on paper which demonstrate "hazy, whitish, obscuring patches" on their surfaces. Through visual analysis, historical research, and microanalytical methods that include FT-IR microspectroscopy, XRD, transmitted polarized light microscopy, SEM with energy-dispersive X-ray spectrometry, GC/MS, and elemental analysis using X-ray excited EDS, twenty works by sixteen artists were examined and the results analyzed.

In the article, the term "efflorescence" is defined and modified to mean "water-soluble compounds, which are at least partly derived from the substrate materials, and migrate through the substrate to the surface where they might react with compounds in the environment or change their state of hydration to form visible clusters" and includes compounds other than inorganic salts and refers to the migration process as well as the end product.

The study discusses the many variables involved in this complicated issue and some of the multiple physical and chemical influences that may be responsible for efflorescence. Two-thirds of the works looked at had "free fatty acid deposits on their surfaces". The topics of discussion and research include fatty acid efflorescence, commercial sources of fatty acids, artist's recipes, conservation treatments, reactions of fatty acids in paint films, inorganic efflorescence, and the need for future work.


"Newman Restorer Drops Suit"

in Art in America, "Artworld" column, March 1997, p. 128.

An out of court settlement was reached for an undisclosed amount in the case of Art Restorer Daniel Goldreyer against the city of Amsterdam. Goldreyer "was suing the city for allegedly libelous comments made by a Stedelijk museum official regarding his four-year , $270,000 restoration of Barnett Newman's "Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III" which was vandalized in 1986. Goldberg is still pursuing suits against the Wall Street Journal and Time Magazine for "disparaging articles they published on the restoration"."


"Restoration Drama"

by Ken Shulman, ARTnews, International News, February 1997, vol. 96, No. 2, p. 62.

Harvard University's John Shearman and Columbia University's James Beck are going to court in Italy. Beck is suing Shearman for defamation following the printing of part of a confidential letter from Shearman to the Mayor of Padua in an Italian newspaper last spring. The letter was in reference to the proposed restoration of Giotto's frescos in Padua's Scrovegni Chapel. Shearman was quoted from the letter in the newspaper article saying that Beck "had always argued against any effort to conserve important works of art" and was both "ignorant" and "presumptuous".

The disagreement between the two art historians seems to be an ongoing battle which goes back before the Padua project to the restoration of the Sistine Chapel. Shearman served as a consultant to the Vatican restoration team during the project and Beck was the most vocal opponent of the restoration. The penalty for defamation in Italian courts could carry as much as a six month prison sentence.


"When is a Calder"

by Judd Tully in ARTnews, February 1997, vol. 96, no.2, pp. 88-95.

"Alexander "Sandy" Rower", the 33 year-old grandson of sculptor Alexander Calder, finds himself at the center of controversy as he oversees the late artist's catalogue raisonné. People are questioning what he's letting in and keeping out."

In an art market where Calder sculptures are highly sought after, Tully discusses the making of a Calder catalogue raisonné by the Alexander and Louisa Calder Foundation . Though the necessity of a catalogue is widely agreed upon as a "necessary and overdue tool in fighting fakes", the controversy has been sparked over a number of issues.

The accuracy and judgment of some of the decisions of what to include and what to exclude from the catalogue is questioned by dealers, collectors, curators and art historians predominantly because the primary author of the catalogue, Sandy Rower, the artist's grandson, has no formal training in art history and is considered by many to be lacking authority as primary author of such an influential work. The method in which the catalogue is being made is also put to question. Contrary to the way most catalogue raisonné projects are carried out, the information being amassed for the Calder catalogue is being made predominantly by "Sandy" Rower with little input from academics and museum experts.

A side issue discussed is that Rower and his brother also do conservation work on Calder sculptures. Some collectors are afraid that should they reject a proposed conservation treatment that their Calder sculptures could be rejected for the catalogue. Though some sources say that Calder himself left specific instructions about repainting his work, the foundation and the brothers are very much against it.

The publishing of the first volumes of the catalogue are expected to appear in 1998 to coincide with the centennial of the artist's birth and the opening of a retrospective exhibition on the artist at the National Gallery. The market place appears to be bracing itself as issues of authenticity are expected to be numerous.

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