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LA Times Story. Editorial of 2/28/2002

Please note this story is replicated as it appeared in www.latimes.com.

February 28, 2002

Art Restorers Help Antiques That Haven't Aged Gracefully

Today's antiques owner--whether of museum-quality works, beloved heirlooms or mere swap-meet finds--tends to be savvier about value than ever before, thanks in large part to the popularity of public television's "Antiques Roadshow." But questions still remain: What to do if a piece of porcelain is cracked or an antique table acquires water spots? Should a missing part be replaced? How visible should repair work be? And, perhaps most important, how much will the new work affect the object's monetary value?

It all boils down to the essential differences between conservation and restoration.

According to Victoria Blyth-Hill, director of LACMA's Conservation Center, "Conservation as a field is holistic and encompasses restoration as well as examination, documentation, preventative care and treatment and is supported by research. With us, less is more. We stabilize the object and present it in its original state as much as possible." Blyth-Hill says that the golden rule of conservation is reversibility. "Trends in conservation change, so 50 years from now someone may want to do something different with the object." Restoration, on the other hand, is the actual treatment process. "Restoration is older and has been going on in Europe for hundreds of years. Conservation is a much more modern, evolving field," Blyth-Hill says.

Although both areas have their own codes of ethics, it's still important for an owner of antiques to make an educated decision on which way to go. Generally, if an article is of great value, conservation is indicated. However, if the value is mainly sentimental or if the object is functional--say, a clock or vase--restoration can be a suitable choice. "A lot depends on how important the object is to you and how much you're willing to spend," Blyth-Hill continues.

"In general, restoration is a very complex and personal issue," says Jason Stein, decorative arts specialist at Christie's Los Angeles. "Some prefer untouched pieces, while others appreciate the merits of restoration. And there is no straightforward answer on how it affects prices at auction. That can only be judged on a piece-by-piece basis. Factors to consider are the quality of restoration, the impact of it on the piece, the number of times it's been repaired and when it was done. If it was done 200 years ago, it is now an integral part of it. For an auction house, the ideal thing is an unrestored piece, because then the collector can decide."

If a figurine or vase is in many pieces or if the value is mainly sentimental, restoration can be a reasonable choice. Several restoration companies exist in the Los Angeles area. Before you choose one, it's best to examine examples of their work, visit their workshops and get a written estimate of repairs and the length of time needed for the job. References are also important. If personal recommendations are not available, you can consult the conservation departments of Christie's, Sotheby's, LACMA or the Getty Museum.

One Los Angeles firm is Golberg Restoration, owned by Rafail and Polina Golberg. Their workshop, which they encourage customers to visit, is jammed full of disparate objects and resembles a dusty attic. On one side of the room are small, delicate porcelain figures, some missing hands and flowers, while at the opposite side a 12-panel, 9-foot-tall Chinese Coromandel screen leans against a wall, ready for the final restoration touches to its black lacquer. Waiting for repairs are a large Italian glass vase with a broken stem, a life-sized 1920s French mannequin without arms and a dining room table that was singed by a candle. "We will keep the original patina of the table and just work on the burn marks," says Polina Golberg.

"This girl had no head," continues Polina, pointing to a Dresden porcelain compote held aloft by two female figurines dancing around a maypole. "We made a head from porcelain and added new flowers too." Polina's work desk has little cups of paint that she carefully mixes to re-create the original colors on centuries-old works. Repairing porcelain is the bulk of their business, they say.

"All our repairs can be reversed, so that years later things can be recleaned or redone if necessary. And they're invisible to the naked eye because we duplicated the original paint and finish," Polina says. Invisible repairs are important to both collectors and museums, although any repairs will appear under ultraviolet light if there is a question about them.

The Golbergs have worked in California for 14 years, arriving in 1988 from Odessa, Russia, where both worked as restorers. Polina has a background in fine arts and studied at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

Rafail trained in engineering and fine arts and worked for the Odessa branch of a Moscow restorations research center. "We moved to San Francisco first and spent six months in an art conservation library studying. We had to change some of the ways we did things, because here there is a more advanced technology. We moved to Los Angeles eight years ago," says Rafail.

Most of the restoration work the Golbergs do is for individuals who want a piece fixed for sentimental or functional reasons. Golberg Restoration is located at 411 Westmount Drive, Los Angeles; (310) 652-0735, www.restorationworld .com. Other local restoration firms include Brooks Restoration (porcelain), LG Antique Restoration (furniture), Griswold Conservation Associates (furniture/objects) and Pashgian Brothers (rugs). For general information, visit the Web site www.antiquerestorers.com. For information about conservation and a list of local conservators, see the Web site for the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, www.aic.stanford .edu, or call (202) 542-9545.

Upcoming Events in

Arts and Architecture

On Saturday, Pasadena Heritage presents "Pasadena in the Movies." The bus tour will highlight historic buildings, homes and neighborhoods featured in Hollywood films. Tours are from 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. The cost is $40. Reservations required; call (626) 441-6333.

Also on Saturday, Michael Webb, author of "Modernism Reborn: Mid-Century Modern American Houses," will speak on his book at Form Zero Architectural Books & Gallery, 811 Traction Ave., No. 1A, in downtown Los Angeles. Information: (213) 620-1920.

On Sunday from 2-5:30 p.m., "Sunday in March With the Neutras" will feature the new issue of the "Boomerang" chair, as well as Neutra original drawings and panels, tours and a reception at the VDL Research House and Neutra Office Building, 2379 Glendale Blvd., Silver Lake. $15. (323) 666-8132; www.neutra.org.

Tonight at 7, a panel discussion on "L.A. Now: The Culture of Flux" will take place at the UCLA Hammer Museum in Westwood. Panelists include Richard Koshalek, president of Art Center College of Design; architect Thom Mayne of Morphosis; Frances Anderton, a producer of KCRW's "Which Way L.A.?"; Michael Dear, director of the USC Southern California Studies Center; and Sylvia Lavin, chair of the UCLA Department of Architecture and Urban Design. Free. For information: (310) 443-7000.


Kathy Bryant can be reached at kbryant@socal.rr.com.
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