From the pesticide-infested relics of the Hopi to the botched Chinese wall paintings of the Fogg Museum, it often seems that in the effort to preserve a historic object, the piece suffers further damage. As with any profession, error and trial are part of conservation. Isabelle Brajer's statement "a conservator who has not blundered in the course of his or her career is one that has not dirtied his or her hands." Mishaps range from misconceptions to logistical faults to poor aesthetic decisions. They incur shame but enlighten others who can learn from the misstep. Technical mistakes such as transferring the Chinese murals in the same manner as Italian frescos or miscalculating dimensions like Brajer are the most understandable errors. It is also easier to forgive earlier restorers who did not undergo the same training or possess the same scientific capabilities. However, Brajer also points out the difficulty in interpreting abstract works. Conservators inherently reflect the values and trends of their times that extend beyond the physical treatment of the materials to the manner they approach the art. We ask what is the role and worth of preservation mistakes. What should be regarded as error? In our society, the brazenness, reckless experimentation, and gross disrespect for the object and its context (particularly cultural) that characterized previous generations would be fundamental sins expressed through the irrevocable damage they frequently inflicted. Nevertheless, are flawed works worthless to hang in a gallery or can they teach us about the attitudes, perceptions, and technical blunders of our predecessors? What lessons can we glean from these failed initiatives, and what does it say about the institutions that hide these pieces from public viewing?
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