Politics of Conservation

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PRESERVATION AT ALL COSTS? In an effort to protect the deteriorating Giotto frescoes in Padua’s Scrovegni Chapel, visitors are now only allowed into the chapel for scheduled 15-minute visits, and must view the work from glass enclosures. "Maybe we should at least consider the radical notion that masterpieces - like so much else in this mutable world - have a life-span, and ask ourselves if preserving them is worth making it so unpleasant to experience them." The Atlantic Monthly 04/01

THE VANISHING: Leonardo's "Last Supper" is damaged almost to the point of obscurity. Nonetheless, restorers have spent the past 20 years trying to lighten and brighten the images. Now the controversial results are revealed - here are comparisons between pre-restoration and after. University of Chicago Press 03/12/01

SAVING THE BARNES? Pennsylania's Barnes Collection is in a tight spot. The small collection needs to raise about $50 million to keep going. But most of the proposals to save it would alter the collection's fundamental qualities. Should the museum be sacrificed to the tourists? Philadelphia Inquirer 04/01/01

ELGIN MARBLES DEBATED: All was civil at this conference until just before the end... The Art Newspaper 01/21/00

BRITISH MUSEUM ACCUSED OF COVER-UP: A new report published yesterday accuses the British Museum of severely damaging the Elgin Marbles 60 years ago in an ill-advised cleaning, then covering up the incident. Toronto Globe and Mail 11/30/99

EVERYTHING OLD AND NEW AGAIN: American architect Rick Mather has been entrusted to redesign and redevelop London's South Bank. Mather has been working in London for 30 years, putting his modernist touch on a series of redevelopment projects, including the Dulwich Picture Gallery, National Maritime Museum, and Oxford's Ashmolean Museum. His South Bank scheme blends conservation and renewal.  The Telegraph 3/31/00

VERONESE DAMAGE: After inspecting how the Louvre has cleaned a prominent painting by Italian master Veronese, a French conservation expert despairs: "Clothes that were originally red were now green. The whole spatial and wonderful chromatic harmony is distorted. When you look at the painting . . . black, red and blue colors seem to be floating among other colors like pieces of a broken puzzle. The light is now a cold, artificial, modern one." London Times 03/02/00

RESTORING CALCUTTA: The Calcutta government has asked the British to help restore Calcutta's British colonial architecture. "The Marxist government sees the conservation-led regeneration of the city’s neglected colonial past as part of a larger scheme for social and economic revival by promoting it as a business and tourist attraction. It feels the need to alter the city’s image from what Kipling described as the 'city of dreadful night' — summoning up the Black Hole and the slums where Mother Teresa worked—to 'The gifted city', as it will be promoted, emphasising its rich cultural and architectural traditions." The Art Newspaper 10/06/00

MAINTAINING A GOOD IDEA: Five years ago Britain set up the lottery-supported Heritage Fund, setting forth £1.5 billion in spending on arts and cultural projects. "Who could have imagined in 1990 that so many longstanding conservation problems would be resolved or that such bold initiatives would have found funding? Without it, the world would have been a much duller place. Yet, just as the achievements of the fund are becoming clear, so are the dangers that surround it." The Telegraph (London) 11/19/00

DECOMPOSING: The original musical notes JS Bach wrote on manuscript paper are fading away. "Experts say the iron- or copper-based ink and cloth paper he used contained or produced sulfuric acid over the years. As a result, Bach's very notes are disappearing in a slow-burn chemical reaction - literally eating themselves right off the page." High tech conservation efforts are underway. CNN.com 11/07/00

THE SCIENCE OF ART: Until recently picture conservation has been a somewhat sensual, hands-on and almost medieval craft. No longer. New scientific methods unlock secrets. "When Rembrandt painted white preparatory ground on his canvases, little did he realise that some 350 years later a scientist would be interested in the tiny fossils it contained." Financial Times 01/13/00

BLOCKBUSTING: Are museum blockbuster shows ruining museums? One art historian believes so. "Masterpieces are shunted around the world, often against the advice of conservation departments, primarily to bring prestige to the lenders, publicity to the sponsors and paying customers to the host institutions. Small or penurious institutions are deprived of their treasures, and objects which, for one reason or another, cannot be lent are increasingly neglected: less and less attention is paid, for example, to large pictures and artists who specialised in them." The Economist 11/10/00

MOSES ONLINE: The cleaning and restoration of Michelangelo's "Moses" is being done live over the internet. Viewers can tune in any time and see how the project is progressing. "We don't just want to clean and restore the monument. We want to make it even more well known than it already is. People will be able to follow the whole process of restoration minute by minute and day by day. It's a way of letting them feel a part of it." CNN.com 11/24/00

MICHELANGELO RESTORATION: Michelangelo's statue of Moses in Rome is to get its first restoration in 200 years. Michelangelo worked on the statue in the early 1500s. New Jersey Online 11/21/00

DAMAGING THROUGH RESTORATION: India's Ajanta paintings, which easily rank among the world’s most precious heritage sites, are being restored. But a leading expert warns that "the cleaning methods employed at the caves and the level of skills of the workers engaged in the cleaning have seriously damaged the Ajanta paintings and led to a demonstrable loss of pigment." The Art Newspaper 11/06/00

POLITICS OF RESTORATION: The Vatican's St. Peter's gets a facelift, restoring some original color to the facade. Critics decry the job as a post-modern tilt,  "the desire to transform everything into a movie set." New York Times 9/30/99

RESTORING A MINOR POPE:  One of the side benefits of the economic boom of the last decade has been the newfound ability of cities to reinvest in their own beautification. Pittsburgh's Frick Park, long in disrepair, is undergoing a massive restoration, with particular attention being given to the unique neoclassic gates designed by the iconoclastic John Russell Pope. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 1/24/01

DAMAGES FROM RESTORATION: Scientists tell the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society that "collectors and curators have been unknowingly using risky techniques that cause the polymers forming their paints to fall apart. Poor preservation techniques, including the cleaning of paintings using harsh chemicals, could soften and deform the paint." Ananova 08/24/00

DULWICH DOOMED? “The most architecturally venerated of London's art galleries,” the 18th-century Dulwich Picture Gallery has recently undergone extensive restoration thanks to £5 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund. How did the revitalization affect Sir John Soane’s original collection? “It's hard not to feel a twinge of regret, as Soane's ghost has faded a little more with this new work. It feels normal, which it never was before.” London Evening Standard 05/24/00

 RESTORATION FOR THE REAL WORLD: The former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan is restoring Bukhara, a stop on the ancient 'Silk Road' trading route that became an Islamic center of learning. "Restorers desperately want to maintain the city's vitality and avoid the mistakes that turned the historic center of Samarkand, a Silk Road city 150 miles to the east, into a gleaming, but lifeless museum piece." CNN 07/10/00

CRUMBLING TREASURES: Italy has a wealth of art treasures. But how to take care of it? "Art restoration in Italy is in a mess. It's not that we lack restorers of the highest ability. It is rather that the organisation of the whole, and the role of the government, is chaotic... The government may get involved when some world-famous building has collapsed, or a world-famous fresco starts peeling off its wall. But there's no interest at all in the thousands of buildings and churches that are quietly crumbling, along with the objects inside them, in the centres of Italy's ancient cities." The Telegraph (London)

FRESCO TECHNOLOGY: Using computer re-creations and chemical technology to expose underlayers, after 15 years of arduous restoration a dozen 15th-century wall paintings by Renaissance master Piero della Francesca will be unveiled to the public Friday in the Church of San Francesco in Arezzo, Italy. Twenty years ago such a job would not have been possible. New York Times 04/06/00 (one-time registration required for entry)  

RESTORING THE PATH OF FAITH: This month, Coptic Christians in Egypt are celebrating the 2000th anniversary of the Holy Family's travel through Egypt. In preparation for the thousands of pious pilgrims that will come to retrace their path, the Egyptian Heritage Revival Association is pouring millions of Egyptian Pounds into the restoration of tombs, icons, altars...and the installation of restrooms. Egypt Today 06/00 





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