Volume 13, Number 1, Jan. 1991, pp.29-31

Conference Reviews

by Mary P. Hough

Four conferences are reviewed in this column:

  1. "Cleaning, Retouching & Coatings: Technology and Practice for Easel Paintings and Polychrome Sculpture, IIC, Brussels Congress, 3-7 1990," review by Mary P. Hough, Chris Stavroudis, and Aneta Zebala.
  2. "ICOM Triennial Meeting, Dresden, August 1990," review by Brian Considine.
  3. "The Fauve Landscape: Issues of Art History and Conservation, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 6-7 October 1990," by Mary Hough and Chris Stavroudis.
  4. "Harper's Ferry Regional Textile Group: 10th Biennial Symposium; Washington, D.C.; November 8-9, 1990," review by Sharon K. Shore and Meredith Montague.

Cleaning, Retouching & Coatings: Technology and Practice for Easel Paintings and Polychrome Sculpture

IIC Brussels Congress, 3-7 September 1990.

Brussels, the birthplace of the IIC, was the host city for the 13th biennial Congress, a fitting location to celebrate the Institute's 40th anniversary. The congress was dedicated to the memory of Paul Coremans, as a tribute to his contributions in leading the way in the formation of the Institute. Tribute was also paid to the memory of Norman Brommelle, the IIC Sec. Gen. for almost 30 years, and to Gerry Hedley. Their recent sudden deaths left us all deeply saddened.

There has been no major international conference devoted solely to paintings in over a decade. Approximately 800 participants attended from over 40 countries. Forty-one papers and a series of 20 poster sessions were devoted to the cleaning, retouching and varnishing of chiefly oil paintings, and also polychrome sculpture.

The congress began with the Forbes Prize Lecture given by Dr. Robert Feller. His talk entitled, "Charts and Fathomable Depths: Navigating in a Sea of Polymers" was a philosophical reflection on surface coatings: requirements for protective coatings, physical and chemical properties, and the process and progress of their aging.

The cleaning of paintings is always a significant undertaking involving dangers for the constituent materials and risks in altering the painting's appearance and overall balance, and thus its critical interpretation. Several papers addressed specific cleaning treatments, techniques and materials employed, and the various problems encountered. These were largely on the subject of paintings, but also covered, for example, Egyptian painted wood objects and encaustic mummy portraits, a 7th century sandstone shrine, 18th century terracotta sculptures, a 1903 painted Steinway piano, terrestrial and celestial globes, Austrian Gothic and Baroque retables, and English polychromed church screens from the 15th and 16th centuries. The importance of understanding the role and nature of the surface layers before undertaking any treatment was emphasized.

Three delegates presented in detail the principles and practical processes of various retouching techniques, using egg tempera emulsion, PVA medium, and the techniques of "astrazione cromatica" and "selezione cromatica". A fourth discussed the photochemical stability of synthetic resin-based retouching paints. Historical recipes and procedures from the use of megilp, varnish and paint recipes to Carol Mancusi Ungaro's discussion of Rothko's materials and techniques were surveyed.

Several studies examined different aspects of the effects of solvents on oil paint films in order to generate guidelines for the choice of solvent systems which minimize adverse effects. Richard Wolbers' innovative techniques were, not surprisingly, addressed in numerous presentations. His talk, "A Radio-isotopic Assay for the Direct Measurement of Residual Cleaning Materials of a Paint Film," as well as presentations (both pro and con) by other speakers, discussed the issue of clearance of soaps and detergents from paint surfaces. His methodologies were also evidenced in the paper on the approach to the cleaning of Whistler's "Peacock Room" presented by Wendy Samet and Joyce Hill Stoner, and the presentations on the treatments of van Gogh's 1888 triptych of "Trees in Blossom, Arles."

Rene de la Rie discussed the investigation of several industrially manufactured low molecular weight synthetic resins for their potential use as picture varnishes. Mark Leonard's talk presented some observations on the working properties and appearance of two of these new synthetic resins, Arkon P-90 and an experimental aldehyde resin. He found that the results compared favorably with those of mastic varnishes.

Perhaps the highlight of this congress was Westby Percival-Prescott's presentation. When painting conservators bounce their collective grandchild-conservators on their knees, the story told of the 1990 IIC Congress will be of this performance. Although officially titled "Eastlake Revisited: Some Milestones on the Road to Ruin," the dramatic depiction of the withering away of beauty from a painting by time and restoration was an event.

The congress closed with three papers covering the vandal attack on five Durers at the Alte Pinakothek, Munich in April 1988. The calcium carbonate grounded panels were severely damaged by sulfuric acid. First measures taken after the attack, and the effective treatment using an ion exchange resin were discussed. These topics elicited lengthy audience comment and debate.

review by:
Mary P. Hough, Painting Conservator
Tatyana M. Thompson Associates
Santa Monica
Chris Stavroudis, Painting Conservator
1272 N. Flores St.,
Los Angeles, CA 90069
Aneta Zebala
Painting Conservator
Tatyana M. Thompson & Associates Santa Monica

ICOM Triennial Meeting

Dresden, August 1990

The ICOM Committee for Conservation held its 9th triennial meeting in Dresden, Germany, at the end of August. More than 500 participants from 40 countries attended. A daily morning plenary session allowing participants to listen to key papers from many of the committee's 26 working groups was an innovation of this year's meeting. Previously, all papers were given in the individual working group meetings. These plenary sessions were introduced to allow participants from diverse fields better access to the full scope of the Conservation Committee's activities and to open the meetings to museum professionals from other disciplines.

A new directory board was elected and Cliff McCawley, from the Canadian Conservation Institute, was chosen to be its Chairman. Outgoing Chairman, Janet Bridgeland, of the Getty Conservation Institute, was recognized for her many contributions to the board and was asked to serve as co-opted member on the newly elected board. Nicholas Stanley-Price, of the Getty Conservation Institute, also was elected to the new board, which has identified the reorganization of the committee's working groups as its main focus for the upcoming triennial period.

The Dresden meeting afforded participants a fascinating opportunity to get to know colleagues who were just emerging from the Communist system. No less interesting was the opportunity to visit the collections in Dresden and to take the excursions which followed the meeting.

The next ICOM general conference will be held in Quebec in 1992. The next triennial meeting of the Conservation Committee will be held in Washington, D.C. in September 1995. Copies of the recent proceedings, published with the support of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, are available from the J. Paul Getty Book Distribution Center, P.O. Box 2112, Santa Monica, CA 90407-2112.

review by:
Brian Considine,
J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu

The Fauve Landscape: Issues of Art History and Conservation

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 6-7 October 1990

This two day symposium was held in connection with the nearly 170 paintings on view in the exhibition, "The Fauve Landscape: Matisse, Derain, Braque, and Their Circle, 1904-1908." On Saturday, art historians and curators with areas of expertise in Fauve art gave individual presentations and participated in a panel discussion: (1) John Klein, Columbia University, N.Y., (2) Jack Flam, City University of New York, (3) Michael Parke-Taylor, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, (4) John Elderfield, The Museum of Modern Art, N.Y., (5) James D. Herbert, University of Texas, Austin, and (6) Judi Freeman, Curator of the exhibition, LACMA. They pursued topics that pertained to their own specialty or areas of interest with the focus on Matisse, Derain and Vlaminck--their sources, travels, contributions, influences on one another and on future artists.

On Sunday, John Twilley, senior conservation scientist and Joseph Fronek, senior painting conservator, both of LACMA, gave presentations, and later joined Judi Freeman and a panel of painting conservators: (l) Lucy Belloli, Metropolitan Museum of Art, N.Y., (2) Virginia Rasmussen, LACMA, (3) Andrea Rothe, The J. Paul Getty Museum, (4) Kristen Hoermann, Yale University Art Gallery, and (5) Shelley Svoboda, LACMA. The talks and discussion centered on the research project on the state and technical aspects of Fauve paintings, in progress in LACMA's conservation department. The presentation focused on pigment identification and artist's technique of several paintings in the exhibition. The panel continued with discussion of technique and materials, dating of paintings, the varnish question, the location (in the studio or outside) in which they painted, their influences, authenticity, and stylistic differences. A suspect Derain was present and served as a topic for discussion. The conservation lab at LACMA is continuing research on painting from the exhibition, and will present their findings at a future time.

review by:
Mary Hough, Painting Conservator
Tatyana M. Thompson & Associates Inc.
Santa Monica
Chris Stavroudis, Painting Conservator
1272 N. Flores St. Los Angeles, CA 90069

Harper's Ferry Regional Textile Group: 10th Biennial Symposium

Washington, D.C.; November 8-9, 1990

The Harper's Ferry Regional Textile Group sponsored its 10th biennial symposium at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. on November 8th and 9th, 1990. The topic for the two day meeting was Textiles and Costumes on Parade: Exhibition Successes and Disasters. Nearly a dozen WAAC members attended the conference and WAAC members who made presentations included Deborah Bede, Margaret Geiss-Mooney and Catherine McLean. Seventeen presentations covered three general areas: exhibition practices, both historical and current, display materials for costumes and flat textiles, and display conditions.

In the first category, there were two lectures on exhibition practices traced through a particular institution's history. The talks documented evolution of mannequin shapes and materials, and illustrated the damage to costumes from years of unchecked light levels, unfiltered environments and unstable materials. Interestingly, because museum personnel used what was readily available, the shapes of mannequins reflected more about fashionable silhouettes in the era of the exhibition than that of the period costume. In both case histories, the audience was encouraged by recent improvements in exhibition design, materials and environmental controls.

Several lectures on more recent exhibitions gave an intimate, behind the scenes tour of traveling costume exhibitions, sharing with the audience valuable advice on planning and installing artifacts. Representing this category was a presentation from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, co-authored by Louise Coffey (now with the Museum of Natural History, County of L.A.) and Catherine McLean, entitled "A Traveling Exhibition: Hollywood and History--Costume Design in Film."

The second category of talks covered various methods of mounting textiles and costumes for display. Choosing mannequins was a topic well covered and examples ranged from low cost options using rings of styrofoam shaped with a carving knife to an $8500 custom designed commercially made mannequin for Nancy Reagan's inaugural dress. The dress posed difficult fitting problems because of its one-shoulder design. Another topic that was examined was the image that mannequin choice projects to the viewer. As one lecturer questioned, what are the color, hairstyle and body proportions of mannequins telling us about the people who would have worn this costume?

Talks concerning the exhibition of flat textiles included a discussion of the loss of tension that can be experienced in fabric covered strainers used to mount flat textiles as a result of changes in humidity, and also a method for mounting political memorabilia.

The third category of lectures focused on the susceptibility of textiles to damage by light during exhibition. Although damage of textiles due to light has been the subject of much research, safe parameters are still in question. By using colorimeter readings before and after display, one researcher concluded that even textiles displayed under optimum exhibition conditions were adversely affected. In a few cases, changes were so great as to be detectable with the human eye.

The conference had much to offer the conservator working with the challenges of mounting costume exhibitions. Additional insight was offered to any conservator concerned about the well-being of artifacts on display.

All Harpers Ferry symposia are recorded on audio cassettes for distribution and are available from Cassette Recording Company, Inc., P.O. Box 20453, Dayton, Ohio 45420. Three symposia publications (1980, 1988, and 1990) can be ordered from AIC/FAIC. The proceeds from the sale of these publications will be used to help raise additional funds for the FAIC endowment account.

review by:
Sharon K. Shore
Caring for Textiles, Los Angeles
Meredith Montague, Intern
Los Angeles County Museum of Art

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