Art conservators provide healthcare to your art collection. They are the professionals you should turn to when it’s time to prevent and repair damage to works in your collection. They are trained and educated in art history, chemistry and current restorative techniques. Before hiring a conservator, check their credentials—which should include a Masters Degree from an accredited Art Conservator program.
Good as New?
Collectors often confuse the common term ‘art restorer’ with the professional title Art Conservator. The difference is years of study and extensive training. The work of a qualified art conservator goes deeper than the surface appearance of an artwork, caring for its future as well as taking therapeutic measures against the ravages of time.
“While many craftspeople and artists can make something look good as new, without the knowledge of chemistry and appropriate materials in 20 years it could be completely ruined by lack of chemistry knowledge.”
- Lauren P. Isaacs Owner, Chief Conservator, Flying Pig Art Conservation
Specialized knowledge of the materials used in the creation of art is the key difference. Many museums and private collections are full of art that was restored with materials that have altered the work. For instance, a clear epoxy that mended a flaw decades ago turns brown and darkens a valuable painting. Conservators must endeavor to undo the harm of previous “fixes” while preventing additional damage. It’s delicate work!
Conservators create a Condition Report that examines a work of art in detail, front & back, noting the materials used, size, artist, title, date of execution, and any damage or deterioration. The report is a ‘snapshot’ of the condition of the work of art at a particular moment in time. It is used for buying insurance and to assess future damages—should they occur. The report is also increasingly important in the valuation of a work of art, used in both sales and loans. The report should include a high-resolution photograph and be kept in the collector’s records.
“Real estate is location, location, location: art is condition, condition, condition.”
- Gordon A. Lewis Jr., Senior Vice President and Director, The Fine Arts Conservancy
Bargain-hunting art collectors may discover that the ‘slightly damaged treasure’ they picked up for a song costs a fortune to restore before it’s ready to be displayed. As condition has a huge impact on the market value, collectors should consider restoration expenses when they buy a work of art in less-than-pristine condition.
“People bring in damaged art that they just purchased and protest that they paid so little, how can the restoration cost more than the price they paid? Buyer beware.”
- Andrei Givotovsky, Art Restoration NYC
When Should a Collector Consult a Conservator?
Lauren P. Issacs advises art collectors to consult a conservator early in the process of buying a work of art.
“As a former museum conservator, I was regularly asked to assess objects being purchased for the collection. A professional conservator will be able to see damages, previous restoration, and signs of authenticity quicker and more reliably than anyone else. For contemporary art, where materials are less traditional, a conservator can help gauge potential problems your piece may have later in its life.”
When consulting a conservator at the time of purchase, it’s best to find one who is not associated with the seller. This protects the collector and everyone else from real, or perceived, conflicts of interest.
“Never, ever use the dealer’s conservator. There are too many ways to shade a report to be truthful yet substantially favor the dealer.”
- Gordon A. Lewis Jr.
He also suggests that a trusted conservator monitor your serious works of art with an examination prior to purchase and follow-up visits every several years thereafter.
You may also want to call in a conservator when you inherit an artwork, or a collection, to help you assess the current condition in preparation for sale and to prevent potential damage. Conservators and collectors should discuss objectives and expectations up front, as it is unrealistic to expect a magical return to perfect condition.
Preventive Care Rx
While it is difficult to turn back time for a damaged painting, sculpture, mixed media piece, etc. preventing damage is much easier and conservators have many specific prescriptions collectors can follow. These strategies start with a thorough evaluation of the current status of the work and follow up with ideas for preventing further damage.
“First there are the conditions which are deteriorating and must be stabilized before further damage is done. For example, peeling paint, then the things that will cause damage in the future such as a loose canvas. Perhaps the stretcher bars need replacing. Perhaps the canvas tacking edges need edge lining. Perhaps the entire canvas needs lining.”
- Andrei Givotovsky
Conservators have many simple, general suggestions for protecting works of art on display in your home:
1. Avoid Direct Sunlight
Conservators often recommend UV filters for windows and/or keeping rooms dark when unoccupied
2. Framing Against Humidity
Fluctuating levels of humidity can do serious damage, professional conservation framing helps moderate fluctuations
3. Proper Storage
Damp, dark environments promote mold growth—this is unhealthy for art and people, too
4. On-Site Environmental Evaluation
Bringing in a professional conservator to evaluate the location where your art is displayed and/or stored for the potential negative impact of light, temperature, humidity & other environmental factors
It is important to be preventative when it comes to the health of your art.
“While nothing may be wrong now, monitoring the condition of your artwork and keeping it in the best possible environment, whether in storage or on view, means we can avoid many of the problems we can anticipate happening. Conservators are aware of both environmental chemistry and the chemistry of the art itself. Armed with both you can insure your work is getting a museum quality life, which only increases value over time.”
- Lauren P. Issacs
Many conservators specialize in specific media or periods of art. It makes sense to seek out a specialist familiar with the materials used in your collection whether it is contemporary electronic art or antique works on fragile paper. Expertise in the style and period may also be a major factor in your choice.
“It is important that the restoration be done so the picture does not stand out as restored. This requires knowledge of the appearance experts expect to see when it is viewed.”
- Gordon A. Lewis Jr.
Restoration should not undermine the characteristic golden glow of varnish in the brushstrokes of an Impressionist painting or the smooth surface of a work from the Academic period. Ideally, restoration is invisible and that requires a great deal of skill, talent and knowledge. An art conservator with an expertise in your medium, period, style or artist will be best able to repair damage without leaving evidence of obvious intervention.
The Right Art Conservator for Your Collection
Whether you collect Old Master oil paintings, vintage photography, Picasso’s ceramic plates, 19th century bronzes, video installations or any other category of fine art, an art conservator plays an important role in the growth and maintenance of your collection. Consulting with an art conservator may help you avoid costly mistakes when buying a damaged or poorly restored work of art. An on-site visit from a conservator will help you make sure the environment where your collection is displayed or stored is not causing damage to your art. And a condition report prepared by a professional art conservator is a must for insurance, loans and sales of artwork.
To discover art conservators near you, visit The Clarion List, the leading directory of art service providers with ratings & reviews. Sort by location, art specialty, company size and years of experience. Visit www.clarionlist.com
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