Expert Antonio Alvarez shares his conservation guidelines for works on paper

by leslierankowfinearts

ANTONIO ALVAREZ, EXPERT PAPER CONSERVATOR AND RESTORER, OFFERS GUIDELINES FOR THE PROPER TREATMENT OF WORKS ON PAPER, THE POTENTIAL MOST FREQUENT CAUSES OF DAMAGE, AND IN INSIDER VIEW INTO A WONDERFUL STUDIO HE HAS CREATED WHERE EACH CONSERVATOR WORKS AS A SPECIALIST WITHIN THE SPECIALTY. WHAT A BRILLIANT SYSTEM. ALVAREZ, LOCATED AT 29 WEST 36th STREET, IN NEW YORK,  IS TRULY MODELED ON A RENAISSANCE ATELIER.

LAST WEEK, WE LEARNED THE HISTORY OF ALVAREZ FINE ART SERVICES, LOCATED IN NEW YORK, www.alvarezfas.com, AND TONY DESCRIBED THE PROCESS OF CONSERVATION, BEGINNING WITH THE EVALUATION OF THE WORK, AND EXPLORING POSSIBLE TRADITIONAL AND INNOVATIVE TECHNIQUES AND PROCESSES TO BRING THE ORIGINAL QUALITY OF THE WORK BACK.

TONY, HOW CAN CONDITION ISSUES BE PREVENTED? WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE FOR PREVENTIVE MEASURES FOR WORKS ON PAPER?

When purchasing works on paper that were framed some time ago with acidic material, one of the best preventive measures you can do is simply reframe or refit the artwork with acid-free matting and UV-filtering glass or plexi. Secondly, works on paper are much more sensitive than varnished oil paintings and should be displayed with softer light. A bright picture lamp, for example, could damage the artwork over time. The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) is an excellent online resource for preventive care measures.

LIGHT AND ITS DESTRUCTIVE PROPERTIES IS A MAJOR CONCERN WITH WORKS ON PAPER IN PARTICULAR. WHAT IS THE PROPER ENVIRONMENT THAT YOU RECOMMEND?

This answer is related to the previous one; yes, light is the enemy of paper if used in an abusive fashion. Prolonged exposure to light, whether daylight or artificial, can cause fading or discoloration, altering the aesthetic balance of a painting. As  mentioned, direct spotlights are a no-no. We tell our clients it is best to keep their art on paper in a room with less than 10 foot-candles of light that is comparable to lighting a room with a 65 watt bulb), with a temperature between 55 and 70 degrees, and relative humidity between 30 and 50%. Keep your framed art on paper away from windows, radiators, bathrooms and hang them on interior walls.

WHEN A WORK IS DAMAGED OR HAS DETERIORATED, WHAT STEPS CAN BE TAKEN TO RESTORE THE WORK? PLEASE DESCRIBE THE CONSERVATION PROCESS FROM RECEIPT OF THE WORK TO iTS RETURN TO THE COLLECTOR.

When we receive a work for evaluation, the first step is documentation. We examine the support, paint layer, frame and labels, and photograph any and all abnormalities. A condition report is then generated which details the current structural and visual qualities of the artwork. If we believe treatment would be beneficial, a treatment plan and estimate is composed and issued to the client. Once approved, the artwork enters the treatment phase and is monitored during the process to ensure the project proceeds as outlined in the plan. The cleaning process is very measured and we follow strict tenets laid out by the American Institute for Conservation; our intervention should be reversible by another trained professional conservator, if necessary; the paper shall not be cleaner than when the artist first used it; and reconstruction or in-painting should be limited only to the places where losses are observed or were recorded. When the treatment is finished, the artwork is documented again and a new condition report generated. Sometimes this entire process can take months, but typically we try to keep a treatment period to three or four weeks.

I KNOW FROM EXPERIENCE THAT YOU HAVE AN EXTRAORDINARY TRACK RECORD OF RESTORING WORKS SO THAT THE DAMAGE BECOMES VIRTUALLY NON-EXISTENT OR CERTAINLY NOT VISIBLE. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE PROCESSES YOU UTILIZE?

We have been very lucky to find talented, young conservation technicians and restorers. Some come from great art schools, some come from poster restoration studios, and some have been involved with book conservation; others have worked for well-known museums. Our studio environment is team-oriented, and everyone brings his or her own special gifts to a project. When a work of art is approved for treatment, it is given to one restorer who is the project leader, but by the end of the process, the piece may have been worked on by three or four individuals, the tears patched by one technician, the in-painting by another specialist, etc. Our track record is built upon this team effort, the procedures we have set in place to ensure the safety of each work of art, and the fact that we do not let our egos get in front of the priority – the efficacy of the treatment.

I HAD NO IDEA OF THE SYSTEM YOU HAVE ESTABLISHED AND FIND IT FASCINATING AS WELL AS EXTREMELY  EFFECTIVE. I KNOW THAT THERE IS A STYLISTIC HISTORY, OF COURSE IN ART ITSELF BUT ALSO IN FRAMING TASTES AND ITS EVOLUTION. NEXT WEEK WE WILL EXPLORE THE EVOLUTION OF FRAMING AND CONSERVATION SPECIFIC TO WORKS ON PAPER.

UNTIL THEN!

THANKS FOR READING….