Art Counsel

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Archive for restoration

Sandblasting the Modern Wing


Chicago readers probably already know that the Modern Wing of the AIC was marred by graffiti some days ago – and kudos for the quick response and having it removed as soon as possible. HOWEVER (and this is difficult for me to say without extreme passion or expletive because I was a historian/office manager for a historic masonry preservation firm for eight years), when removing graffiti from historic or otherwise important masonry buildings, sandblasting is the absolute last resort because it permanently damages the weatherproof surface of the masonry and promotes rapid deterioration of structural integrity. You would think that a museum with archives dedicated to architecture would have consulted preservation specialists before going ahead.

By the way, consulting a restoration company is not the same thing as consulting a preservationist. If you ask for sandblasting from a restoration contractor, you will get sandblasting. Restoration firms are in the business of giving the customer what they want, not necessarily what they need. And to be fair, the damage done to the Modern Wing is not the contractor’s fault. They did what they were paid to do. Preservationists are who you want to call when this kind of problem comes up. They are trained to understand long term effects of preservation/restoration efforts and are generally semi-detached from the construction industry so are more likely to give objective advice and to lead you to the proper restoration techniques and specialists.

Anyway, I do not know who is in charge of these kinds of decisions at the AIC (I suspect it is not the architectural archives), but whoever you are, here is a link to a technical preservation brief on graffiti removal techniques from the National Park Service, Department of the Interior that is considered standard by historic preservation departments and societies.

Now, please call a reputable preservationist to ask how to consolidate the masonry to prevent accelerated weathering damage. Sheesh!

Restoration – Oil Painting Horror story

So I used to know this guy… Ok I still know him, but I’m kinda hoping that he won’t see this post…  Alright I AM hoping that he sees this post, and ultimately that he will lay off a bit and improve his method, but I’m hoping that he doesn’t recognize me in this anonymous post.  He’s cool.  I’d like to stay friends.

Anyway, he is a professional preservationist/restorer of paintings, but he has a bad habit of over-cleaning.  Luckily, he takes many photos while working, so we have records for posterity, but that is cold comfort for curators, archivists and the occasional researcher.  And the average viewer of his overdone restorations might see, unfortunately, is a blanched shadow of what it should be.  I fear that most of his work is going to deteriorate due to overexposure to chemicals and overstripping.

The restoration that most horrified me was a portrait of a 19th century gentleman – frock-coated, standing, by a lesser known artist.  At some point he discovered that this image was an overpainting of a previous portrait of a military man.  If I remember correctly the uniform was British, possibly from the Crimean war.  Rather than doing a bit of research to find out why it was overpainted, taking infrareds (or whatever) to gain an image of the underpainting before proceeding.  He sales-pitched a complete strip of the top layer to the owner.  Why? I can only speculate.  And if I did not know this guy, I would have to assume (from previous experience with restorers of many stripes) that he wanted more work so he could make more money.  In this case it was probably excitement and lack of experience along with a lack of guidance (one of his first jobs starting his own business – so no one to say, “whoa!  we need to think of posterity.  This is not an excavation, but a gentle cleaning”).

For all I know there may have been a good reason to strip the top painting, but this was never explored and now the top portrait is gone forever without proper documentation and possibly with material damage to the work.

Moral:  If you need something restored, don’t let anyone bully you into doing more than you asked.   Better yet, do the proper research before you hire someone so you are not caught out by something unexpected.  And when the unexpected comes a knocking, stop the restoration until you have had a second opinion, or better yet seven or eight opinions by experts with many years experience before doing anything drastic.

Related link: Understanding the Art Market: Condition, Restoration and Conservation by artforprofits