The Image of Conservation

April 23, 2009

Art conservation has never been inundated with mentions in the popular press, so when I saw Carol Kino’s article “Conservators Work to Keep Art, and Climate, Controlled” in April 5th’s NY Times, I was excited to find that it included a significant discussion of museum climate standards and HVAC systems. That’s just not the type of information that makes it out of textbooks and pamphlets, much less into the Sunday Times

The more I read though, the more frustrated I became with the article’s tone and obvious short-comings. Most importantly, the entire article is about preservation, without the slightest mention of interventions or treatments. That confusion can be forgiven, but from the very first line, Ms. Kino works to create this caricature of a conservator as an anachronistic laborer: “As anyone who works in a museum knows, art conservators can be slow to embrace change.” Really? I would be more inclined to reverse that description and say that in a museum, it is the curators and directors that can be slow to embrace change. Of course to end the article, Ms. Kino decides to highlight the impotence of the conservator in the face of nature, ‘For now, she said, “I think we’re just keeping our fingers crossed.”’

I eventually found myself so incensed over this article that I penned a letter to the editors. It hasn’t found its way into print yet, and so I suspect that it was stuck in a pile with all of the other cranks, but I will let you decide.

I was pleased to see Carol Kino’s article, “Keeping Art, and Climate, Controlled” (AR 23, April 5th), as the preservation of cultural heritage is too often taken for granted.

However, I fear that Ms. Kino’s story provides an inaccurate picture of the progressive research that conservators engage in daily. Beyond her “mantra” of climate control, conservators treat damaged items, provide storage recommendations, write disaster plans, and a host of other activities to preserve our material heritage. An active professional group, the American Institute for Conservation, promotes the research and dissemination of new ideas through conferences and a peer-reviewed journal, JAIC.

Conservation demands consideration of a multitude of factors to determine the best means to preserve valued objects for future generations. Today’s conservators develop and apply cutting-edge methodologies to ensure that our grand-children can view the same paintings and photographs that we cherish in our museums and libraries today


One Response to “The Image of Conservation”

  1. […] On some level, I admit that the article may be a tad fawning, but it seems to capture both a sense of the kinds of work that is undertaken and a feel for the environment in which it is done.  Certainly it reads as a more authentic representation than that NY Times article […]

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