A conservator must weigh the benefits against the risks. What is more important: minimal intervention or aesthetics? Should irreversible steps be taken to preserve an object for the long-term even if that means removing potentially valuable or historically significant dirt or corrosion? Do the rules change, so to speak, when an object or painting is unique or extremely rare? What about the question of the artist’s original intent? The “Crimes Against the Cubists” debate draws on these questions and most people seem to prefer minimal intervention to surface/appearance changing restoration. Nonetheless, many times cleaning is both necessary and beneficial.
Saturday, February 27, 2010
What Cleaning Art Can Reveal or Take Away—Spiegel
Cleaning works of art and artifacts can have many benefits, but this week’s readings showed that it can also have many negative consequences. Although cleaning has been and continues to be widely used by conservators, it is irreversible, unlike some of the other techniques employed by modern restorers. Kenneth Clark argued in 1938 that the primary issue is one of aesthetics: would the work look better restored or not? Many modern conservators, however, err on the side of caution and pratice “minimal intervention.” Sometimes, as Eastop and Brooks point out, dirt or patina can have great historical significance (in terms of context) and should be left in place, rather than return the object to its original appearance. Likewise, Bassett and Chase note that cleaning ancient bronzes can not only remove important pieces of evidence, but it can even damage otherwise stable areas.
Les Demoiselles d'Avignon Before (above) and After (below) Cleaning
Close-Up of Les Demoiselles d'Avignon: after the varnish is removed the painting's original texture and matte appearance become apparent. Early restorations had added the varnish to the surface in an attempt to preserve the painting.