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Subject: Conservation principles

Conservation principles

From: Mark D. Gottsegen <mdgottsegen>
Date: Sunday, June 18, 2006
Frank Hassard <f.hassard [at] tiscali__co__uk> writes

>A very well respected and senior member of the international
>conservation community recently stated the following:
>   "It is my belief that 'minimum-intervention' is an institutional
>    ploy to save money and to cover up a lack of skills."

Speaking as an outsider, but one who has observed the field for more
than 30 years--and especially all the institutions involved--I hope
you will not mind me venturing an opinion here.  I here change the
meaning of "institution" to mean museums and so on, and not the
institution of conservation, just for amplification and argument's
sake; I get back to conservation at the end.

If institutions were given the proper degree of funding for their
conservation labs, the first part of this statement would go away.
The funding needs to cover personnel, operations, and capital
expenses for equipment and space.  I do not know a single
institutional conservator who is not constantly asked to do more
with less.  But, as I once said in a paper (paraphrasing) "What
patron wants to spend millions on custodial care--they'd rather
glory in the giving of money to buy art."  That might be a bit
harsh.  But I don't think it's fair to point the finger in only one

As for "skills," I have observed conservation students in programs
and interns in "institutions" hard at work, learning.  None that I
have seen seem to be incompetent.  The population of well-trained
conservators is not increasing as fast as the institutional
collection of works of art that will need treatment--mainly because
of the institutions' inability to hire enough staff.  Perhaps also
because the curators would prefer to buy art than to devote
resources to take care of it.

Of course there will always be unscrupulous or lazy conservators in
private practice.  There are plenty of those in other professions
(doctors, lawyers, financial management, corporate/government
management, education, ad nauseam) and conservation is not exempt.
There seems to be no accounting for how, no matter how well trained,
some human beings go off the track.  Just as the custodial and
display institutions have their problems ("people problems"), so
does the institution of conservation.

Therefore, the statement by a "senior member of the international
conservation community"  seems to me to be tarring with too large a

Mark D. Gottsegen
Chair, ASTM D01.57
Associate Professor
Department of Art
UNC Greensboro
1203 NC 62 East
Climax  NC  27233-9183
Fax: 336-334-5270

                  Conservation DistList Instance 20:1
                  Distributed: Saturday, June 24, 2006
                        Message Id: cdl-20-1-016
Received on Sunday, 18 June, 2006

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