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Subject: Conservation principles

Conservation principles

From: George Brock-Nannestad <pattac>
Date: Saturday, September 2, 2006
I would like to comment on some recent statements on conservation

On August 2006 Richard Fuller commented on an earlier contribution
of mine (extracted):

George Brock-Nannestad <pattac [at] image__dk> writes

>... It
>must be understood that there are differing interpretations about
>the 'use' of artifacts within the museum community. ...

When trying to be brief, sometimes precision suffers. Obviously I
would not argue that a static function, that of being an upright
pewter object, should not be preserved in a museum for exhibition
purposes. But why use a confusingly similar material for restoration
of that function? It can only be because there is a sentimental
approach to "healing" of the object ('there, dear, it is as good as

>Some museums consider physical use of some mechanical artifacts
>appropriate and important to the interpretation of the object and
>historical context represented. In other words, the 'intended
>purpose' of the collection object would not be 'terminated' when it
>entered a collection. Although this means a degree of change through
>wear, maintenance and eventual repair, it is usually consistent with
>the object's pre-collection service life ...

The physical use would teach as much when performed on a
replica--but the thrill of using the "old" item would be gone.
Personal thrill at the expense of future quests for knowledge has no
place in a public museum environment. Wear patterns and repairs may
be practiced on worn-down replicas. If the artefact is privately
owned it is a different matter--the owner may do as he or she
chooses. But then provenance should raise a warning flag when the
artefact enters a museum.

>Of course, at some point, function has to cease. Up to that point
>the artifact may have provided, "all the information that can be
>extracted from it". What remains is a static specimen of technology
>exhibiting evidence of past use. The object is not presenting a
>'lie' about the past--it is what it has become. Its past didn't
>stop at the museum door. Why would this 'extended past' not be valid
>part of an object's history? Information unique to its 'former past'
>and beyond can be preserved through proper documentation.

I definitely agree, however worldwide at least a few artefacts must
be left alone, as time capsules representing the "real life" outside
a collection. Others may continue their life at a lower pace, being
repaired by skilful museum craftsmen, using the last-but-one
surviving repair kit from its "function" days. That artefact will
then represent the "garden variety" life of a pensioner.

On 22 August 2006 Niccolo Caldararo commented (extracted):

>We know more about what we are doing, but we also know that much of
>what has been done had unintended consequences.  As sobering as this
>knowledge is, we must realize that while doing nothing is an option,
>or doing the least intervention reserves the problem for a more
>informed future, we have demonstrated the ability to learn from our
>mistakes and we have a firm foundation, based on a tested bank of
>methodologies to offer the world in preservation of its cultural

This constitutes a very balanced summing-up, and I wish there were
time for everybody contributing to a preservation project to
document not only the actions but also the deliberations that
preceded them.

On 28 August Bud Goldstone exemplified:

>LACMA heads and their brilliant curator chose to lift it back up and
>make it fly again rather than leaving it lying there on the ground.
>I won a competitive contract from them to get it to fly again--I am
>an aeronautical art conservation engineer after all. We made it fly
>by lightening the loads--aluminum for steel--and hollow tubes rather
>than bars -typical fixes in aerospace after all. Who of you that has
>seen it fly now is for leaving it lie on the ground? Make it fly
>again? Yes!

Well, I agree--it was a deliberate, well-considered, and documented
undertaking, and the materials used were apparently not confusingly
similar to the original. However, is it not in reality a
museum-authenticated replica?

George Brock-Nannestad

                  Conservation DistList Instance 20:13
                 Distributed: Friday, September 8, 2006
                       Message Id: cdl-20-13-007
Received on Saturday, 2 September, 2006

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