The art of conservation of works on paper

by leslierankowfinearts

ONE OF THE GREAT CONCERNS THAT COLLECTORS AND DEALERS HAVE IS THE CONDITION OF AN ART WORK, PARTICULARLY WORKS ON PAPER. THE AUCTION HOUSES PROVIDE BRIEF REPORTS BUT WITH AN APPROPRIATE DISCLAIMER. WHEN I AM CONSIDERING THE PURCHASE OF A WORK ON PAPER, BE IT PASTEL, GOUACHE, CHARCOAL OR AN ETCHING OR LITHOGRAPH, I RELY ON ALVAREZ FINE ART SERVICES , LOCATED AT 29 WEST 36th STREET IN NEW YORK, www.alvarezfas.com,  TO EXAMINE THE WORK AND PROVIDE AN EXPERT AND DETAILED CONDITION REPORT. IT IS A CRUCIAL ELEMENT IN THE ACQUISITION PROCESS.

IT IS A PLEASURE TO SPEAK WITH ANTONIO ALVAREZ, CO-OWNER OF ALVAREZ FINE ART SERVICES, A LONG-TERM FRIEND AND COLLEAGUE ON THE ART OF PAPER CONSERVATION.

TONY, THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR TAKING THE TIME TO SPEAK WITH ME. I HAVE KNOWN YOU AND YOUR BUSINESS PARTNER, SCOTT KRAWITZ, AS FRIENDS AND COLLEAGUES SINCE YOU WERE FIRST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED TO ME BY A GALLERY SPECIALIST IN WORKS ON PAPER. THAT BEING SAID, I DON’T KNOW THE HISTORY OF ALVAREZ FINE ART SERVICES. WHAT IS YOUR TRAINING AND WHEN DID YOU START YOUR BUSINESS?

Toward the end of November, 1966, the Arno River flooded Florence. It was devastating. The water was so high even Cimabue’s Cross suffered damage. In New York, The Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, among others, recruited as many conservators as possible working in the city to help with the effort to save the art that had been damaged. This created a vacuum in New York for a time and the industry had to train new conservators to fill the void. That is when I obtained a trainee position within the Julius Lowy-Shar Sisto Framing and Restoration Company (now Julius Lowy Framing and Fine Art Restoration).

I was previously trained in painting and stage design at the Biblioteca Nacional in Havana, Cuba, but immigrated to Spain and then the United States. Having only recently moved to New York, I struck it rich at Lowy; they were not only a very prominent and respected company, but I was placed under the supervision of their main conservator, Joe Battaglia. Joe had graduated from Cooper Union and grew to be a great mentor, excellent communicator and, on top of all this, a kind friend.

In 1984, Scott and I founded Alvarez Fine Art Services to support the specialized needs of art on paper. And for the last 28 years we have strived to build a state-of-the art studio and a team of specialists dedicated exclusively to handling paper conservation and restoration.

WHAT ARE THE MOST FREQUENT CONDITION ISSUES THAT YOU SEE WHEN EXAMINING A WORK ON PAPER?

Over-hinging and discoloration acquired from prolonged contact with acidic material cause most condition issues we encounter. Creasing, tears and losses from poor handling, tape and abrasions from improper framing, foxing, water and mold stains from storage and bad in-painting are also quite often found during examination. I really enjoying seeing new things and finding new solutions to unusual problems. For example, we were recently contacted by a woman who had the misfortune of dropping a very expensive framed print shattering the glass when it hit the floor. As she was picking up the shards of glass, she cut her hand and bled all over the artwork. We were able to help her and the story had a happy ending, but it was certainly the oddity of the situation that made it a fun project.

AS YOU CAN SEE, OBSESSIVE ATTENTION TO DETAIL IS A PRIME REQUISITE IN CONSERVATION AND TONY, AND I MEAN THIS AS THE HIGHEST COMPLIMENT, IS NOT ONLY DEDICATED BUT COMPLETELY OBSESSED WITH THE TECHNIQUES AND NUANCES OF PAPER CONSERVATION AND RESTORATION. NEXT WEEK, WE WILL EXPLORE IN GREATER DEPTH CONSERVATION ISSUES SUCH AS THE PROPER ENVIRONMENT FOR WORKS ON PAPER.

TONY WELCOMES ANY QUESTIONS AND CONCERNS YOU MIGHT HAVE. PLEASE ASK!