It is the nature of things that they will break down; metals will rust, photographs will fade, paint will crack, and wood will splinter and rot.

Often, this is an accepted part of nature. If we have something that is worn out, we will convert it into something else and only throw it away as a last resort. But when dealing with unique and expensive - or even priceless - works of art, throwing the artwork away is not an option.

This is where the  conservatorA skilled individual who works within an art gallery to physically maintain the collection. A conservator will typically repair, clean and guard the collection against damage.  comes in. Conservation, sometimes also called “preservation,” is an important department for any art gallery. It is especially important for public institutions like the Mendel and the MacKenzie Art Galleries, institutions that collect artworks and keep them for reference and enjoyment by the public, now and in the future.

Sometimes, a work of art will be damaged by an accident during shipping or, rarely, while it is on display. Often, work will require attention simply due to the passage of time. In any event, the type of  conservationPreservation from loss, damage, or neglect, stabilizing chemically and structurally, sustaining the survival of objects as long as possible in what is closest to their original form. The application of science to the examination and treatment of objects, and to the study of the environments in which they are placed — used, transported, and stored. What differentiates art conservation from art restoration is the conservator's avoidance of adding anything to an object that cannot be easily removed or identified. Some also address restoration and other issues involving museology. (Artlex.com)  work required will depend on the object, how it was made, and even the artist’s intent.

Brian James - Ozone

Let’s look at an example from the ARTSask website: Brian James’ Ozone. Created on a sheet of  steelAn alloy of iron and carbon capable of being tempered to many degrees of hardness. (Artlex.com)  a few millimeters thick, Ozone is large and heavy. Its metal surface has been covered with images made of pastels and paint. When compared to an  oilSlow-drying paint made when pigments are mixed with an oil, linseed oil being most traditional. The oil dries with a hard film, and the brightness of the colours is protected. Oil paints are usually opaque and traditionally used on canvas. They can have a matte, semi-gloss, or glossy finish. To look at examples of works in oil paints, see the articles under the names of every period from the Renaissance onward. (Artlex.com)   paintingWorks of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is either a tightly stretched piece of canvas or a panel. How the ground (on which paint is applied) is prepared on the support depends greatly on the type of paint to be used. Paintings are usually intended to be placed in frames, and exhibited on walls, but there have been plenty of exceptions. Also, the act of painting, which may involve a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's other concerns which effect the content of a work. (Artlex.com)  on canvas, this piece may seem indestructible. And yet, its surface is slowly changing; the  steelAn alloy of iron and carbon capable of being tempered to many degrees of hardness. (Artlex.com)  surface is becoming rusted in places, changing not only the blank areas but darkening the  groundA surface to which paint is applied, or the material used to create that surface. A painting's ground is usually specially prepared on its support. Traditionally, for oil paint on canvas use a ground of oil and white pigment, and on wood surfaces either an oil ground or gesso. Within a picture, ground may refer to a surrounding or background area. Also, in etching, it's an acid-resistent compound through which a design is drawn. (Artlex.com)  underneath his drawn shapes.

Hygrothermagraph

A canvas, like every other work of art, requires a certain set of ideal circumstances in order to last a long time. These are called “environmental conditions,” and consist of a narrow range of temperatures, a particular level of humidity, and the absence of dust, oils, and other airborne substances.

But the environmental conditions that are ideal for a  paintingWorks of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is either a tightly stretched piece of canvas or a panel. How the ground (on which paint is applied) is prepared on the support depends greatly on the type of paint to be used. Paintings are usually intended to be placed in frames, and exhibited on walls, but there have been plenty of exceptions. Also, the act of painting, which may involve a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's other concerns which effect the content of a work. (Artlex.com)  may not be suitable conditions for a piece of metal. Ordinarily, the artist will protect a metal artwork with a clear or coloured chemical layer. Coating the work with varnish or epoxy will protect the metal from moisture and prevent it from deteriorating.

When James constructed Ozone he deliberately left it unprotected so that it would deteriorate. As its title suggests, Ozone is about the quality of air, the deterioration of a substance, and the idea of environmental exposure and preservation. What better way to embody the  metaphorUsed in art as in speech. A term, regularly used for one object, is used for another and suggests a likeness between to the two.  than to use a material for work that seems impervious but is slowly decaying?

The most obvious part of a conservator’s role is to ensure that the artwork is safe. But the  conservatorA skilled individual who works within an art gallery to physically maintain the collection. A conservator will typically repair, clean and guard the collection against damage.  must also take care not to “intervene” into the artwork by changing it. It may seem strange, but while a  conservatorA skilled individual who works within an art gallery to physically maintain the collection. A conservator will typically repair, clean and guard the collection against damage.  can make repairs, any significant alteration of the work could be seen by the artist as copyright infringement!

The conservator’s job, then, is to correctly interpret the artist’s intent - sometimes with the aid of a  curatorAn individual or group, who conceives an idea for an art exhibition, selects the art works, plans how they will be displayed and writes accompanying supporting materials for the ideas presented. A curator can work freelance or be affiliated with a gallery, and serves as the link between artists and gallery.  or, when available, in consultation with the artist - in order to preserve the work while allowing it to change in accordance with the artist’s original goals for the work. In cases like these, then, the  conservatorA skilled individual who works within an art gallery to physically maintain the collection. A conservator will typically repair, clean and guard the collection against damage.  performs a balancing act. At one extreme is the betrayal of the artist’s wishes, which would cause the conceptual death of the artwork, and at the other is the lack of adequate care of the work’s material nature, which would cause its physical destruction.

For a related example, read about artist Peter von Tiesenhausen and his copyright battle over the changing of his artwork: http://www.canada.com/edmontonjournal/news/business/story.html?id=a271ed7f-d512-4a26-9b32-226ba7bfb1ea&k=3

Eve Kotyk - The Vault
Things To Think About

Hygrothermagraph

  • Can you find other examples on the ARTSask website of artworks that would require special care? Or are there other examples of artworks in which deterioration is a part of the artist’s intent?
  • Why is it so important that artworks be preserved?
  • What challenges might Saskatchewan conservators, in particular, face? Might there be specific challenges to keeping artworks in their original condition in a climate like ours?
  • What challenges might a public, outdoor sculpture present to a conservator? What might some solutions be?

 

Studio Activity

Experiment and conduct your own research into preservation using studio materials under various conditions.

Experiments with paper

To learn more about paper and how to care for works of art on paper, go to The Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI): Preserving My Heritage – How to care for works of art on paper

Proper framing with the use of archival materials will go a long way to protect work on paper. For more information, see The American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works (AIC) – Caring for works on paper

Try experiments with other materials. Here is another suggestion.

 

Experiments with paint

For more information on art  conservationPreservation from loss, damage, or neglect, stabilizing chemically and structurally, sustaining the survival of objects as long as possible in what is closest to their original form. The application of science to the examination and treatment of objects, and to the study of the environments in which they are placed — used, transported, and stored. What differentiates art conservation from art restoration is the conservator's avoidance of adding anything to an object that cannot be easily removed or identified. Some also address restoration and other issues involving museology. (Artlex.com)  see the following web sites:

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning