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Articles and whitepapers on conservation and restoration.

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Taking care of tortoise shell artworks
Taking care of oil paintings
Value of restoration and conservation
LA Times Story

“Does conservation and restoration add value to the piece?”

By Alexander Golberg.
June 1, 2006.

The values created by restoration and conservation efforts are broadly defined and can be thought of as:

  • Monetary value
  • Artistic value
  • Historic value

As this discussion focuses on the value of conservation and restoration, I take no serious effort to discuss differences between conservation and restoration, differences between properly done work and work of substandard quality, as well as proper techniques and methodologies. These are separate topics which warrant independent discussions.

Conservation is structurally preserving artworks, reversing and protecting the piece from future deterioration. I will argue that conservation always adds value. Restoration usually results in added value through its focus on cosmetic look. Restoration is sometimes optional, yet conservation is a necessity if the artwork is to be preserved.

The Reasons

Objects of various media need constant attention; left untreated they will slowly deteriorate. Temperature changes, humidity, exposure to too much light, dust and various air pollutants slowly destroy various works in different ways. Typical damages are dirt accumulation, cracking, and paint layer loss. These damages become more severe if left untreated and can lead to near destruction of artwork. Nearly all work involves inspecting structural integrity, and if necessary structurally reinforcing the artwork.

  • Paintings on various media including canvas, wood, and paper need periodical treatments to avoid permanent damage. Typical damages to paintings are dirt accumulation, cracking, canvas deterioration, and paint layer loss.
  • Woodworks, ivory, bone, and tortoise shell have tendencies to crack.
  • Woodworks can be subject to termite infestation.
  • Lacquers and varnishes absorb dust, which must be cleaned.
  • Marble and stone are subject to dirt accumulation and cracking.
  • Metals need cleaning from corrosion and possibly resealing.
  • Glass absorbs grime, if unremoved, it becomes a permanent attachment of the piece.
  • Porcelain and various ceramics often begin to crack with age, if untreated these cracks only expand.

Aforementioned are damaged caused over time by nature. In addition there are damages resulting from accidents; most common are breakage, fire damage, and water damage. These damages have various effects on work of different media, yet the underlying goals are:

  • Mend broken pieces so the artwork is whole.
  • Remove any soot and dirt caused by fire.
  • Eliminate any humidity caused by water taking care to prevent cracking and over-drying the artwork.

The quality of work is extremely important as it is of most importance on the value created by restoration and conservation efforts, and when done improperly will result in further damages to the piece. Therefore, poor workmanship will lead to destruction of the value of the artwork. I am only discussing properly done work. Properly performed conservation or restoration work usually enhances objects’ value. Thus, following discussion assumes that all work was done in proper ways.

Monetary value

This is the easiest value to determine. Most experts generally agree that properly restored item will be worth 70% to 90% of its mint condition, while damaged piece may be worth 20% to 30% of its mint condition. There are some exceptions to these guidelines, including dolls, toys, and certain collectibles where any restoration may decrease monetary value. There are monetary differences associated with restoration and conservation of different types of works created in different time periods by artists from different cultures.

While restoration typically increases the market value of the piece, the magnitude of such value increase varies by type of artwork. An expert such as licensed appraiser is able to determine monetary value differences of damaged versus restored objects.

Artistic value

I view this aspect from viewpoint of artwork display. As long as the piece was not modified and all recreated elements were done in the style of the original, does properly restored vase present itself better to a human eye than one broken into pieces? This is a quintessential question to the argument for artistic value. This question stresses several factors essential to high quality restoration. When we restore pieces, we follow several ideologies posed in the question:

  • Do no harm to the piece
  • Do not modify the piece (unless instructed to do so by client)
  • Any recreated elements must be done in style of original
  • Use same materials and techniques as original work (when possible)
  • Restoration work should be safely removable

In our practice we have had a number of clients bring to us their sentimental pieces for complete restoration, which would cost more than replacement value of the piece. Having an object which looks perfect is often important for collectors. For these people, “invisible” restoration service we provide is extremely valuable.

Historic value

To preserve historic value of the piece, a conservator needs to work under several principles:

  • Do no harm to the piece Structurally reinforce the piece (if necessary)
  • Do not modify original condition of the piece
  • Work only over directly damaged elements of the piece

Take for example Greek amphora conservation. Typical museum quality restoration is type of service we offer to our clients. It involves mending and filling in the missing elements with neutral colour filler. As result of this work the piece is preserved, strengthened, and brought to display condition, yet all damages are apparent.

It is debatable that further inpainting of the missing elements will enhance values of the piece. We also offer complete restoration services so after we are finished, the piece looks as if it was never damaged. It is arguable that so long as no damage is done to original and all restoration work can be safely removed, then complete restoration will enhance the value of the piece.

Conclusion

Aforementioned are personal opinions and experts are divided into two camps: those who believe that only conservation adds value and those who believe that both conservation and restoration add value to damaged artworks. Conservation is the responsibility of the artwork owner, as it prevents objects from deterioration and preserves the piece; therefore, this type of work adds value. In my opinion, restoration almost always adds all types of value. Nevertheless, as this type of work primarily enhances cosmetic look, except for easily determinable monetary value, it is more of personal opinion in respect to other values it creates.


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