PAPER CONSERVATION, A DELICATE BALANCE OF INTERVENTION AND RESTRAINT

by leslierankowfinearts

IN THE LAST BLOG, ANTONIO ALVAREZ, EXPERT PAPER CONSERVATOR,  DESCRIBED THE GREAT TEAM SYSTEM IN WHICH EACH CONSERVATOR AT ALVAREZ  CONTRIBUTES A VERY SPECIFIC AREA OF EXPERTISE TO THE CONSERVATION AND RESTORATION PROCESS – A PERFECT EXAMPLE OF THE EXACTITUDE OF THE CONSERVATION PROCESS. TODAY HE WILL OUTLINE SOME OF THE SPECIFIC TECHNIQUES AT ALVAREZ FINE ART SERVICES, www.alvarezfas.com,  THAT ARE CONSIDERED AS WELL IN ACHIEVING THE DESIRED RESULT.

TONY, HINGEING OF WORKS ON PAPER AND FRAMING MOUNTS HAVE EVOLVED OVER THE YEARS. I REMEMBER A VERY VALUABLE JASPER JOHNS “FLAG” PRINT THAT A CLIENT WANTED TO SELL AND THE BUYER ULTIMATELY REFUSED TO ACQUIRE SINCE IT WAS HINGED EXCESSIVELY AND THE WORK WAS NO LONGER PRISTINE. WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE HISTORY OF MOUNTING OF WORKS ON PAPER AND WHAT  DO YOU CURRENTLY RECOMMEND?

The history of hingeing art is relatively short. That is, a removable, non-invasive method has only been practiced widely since reversibility became a focus of conservation in the 20th Century. In general, works on paper were not considered as important or valuable in the past, hence they were frequently abused; taped to their mats with pressure-sensitive tape, glued to acidic mounts, and even stretched like oil paintings. Today we spend much of our time reversing and repairing the damage caused by these former framing treatments.

The contemporary trend is one where the edges of the paper are exposed (floating), not covered by a mat. It is difficult to discern the origin of this notion other than showing the complete sheet of paper seems to add something to the artist’s statement. This, plus the fact that many contemporary pieces are executed on slightly oversized pieces of paper, makes each hinging treatment very acute.

It is true, not all framers are created equal and there are some who don’t care or are not aware of the damage they are causing. It can take years to develop skills necessary to know how many hinges, what weight, and what adhesive to use that will not harm the paper. Hinging tracing paper is very different to hinging vellum and still different to hinging an oversized Johns print. Typically we use mulberry tissue and methyl cellulose paste to hinge works on paper because the paste can be removed with water. Pressure sensitive tape is undesirable because it can abrade the surface of the paper.

If you’re a buyer, you should consult with a conservator to see if the work of art is hinged properly. Can you see the hinges through the paper? Are they causing discoloration or deformities? Just because a work has a large number of hinges may not mean it was hinged improperly. In other words, you should not expect a pristine piece of paper. The Johns you spoke of may have been in transit at some time and required additional support. This is why it is good to have a trained eye assist in the evaluation.

I KNOW THERE IS A VOCABULARY SPECIFIC TO THE CONSERVATION WORLD.  I KNOW WE WOULD ALL APPRECIATE YOUR DEFINITIONS OF SOME OF THE MAJOR CONSERVATION CONCERNS SUCH AS INPAINTING, DRY CLEANING, WET CLEANING  AND SUPPORT REMOVAL, FOR EXAMPLE.

These are all general terms that conservators use to describe basic cleaning processes. A typical paper conservation project begins with a surface cleaning to remove any soot or dirt that may have fallen on the surface. This is done to ensure dirt is not pushed into or trapped between cellulose fibers of the paper when an aqueous (wet) treatment is performed.

Wet cleaning is a general term used to describe the use of distilled water or diluted chemical solutions agreed upon by conservators as safe methods to wash, rinse or humidify paper to remove contaminants. Each method has its advantages and drawbacks so much of the process is based on the conservator’s experience with the paper type and medium and knowledge of how it will react during treatment.

Support removal is a general term used typically to describe the separation of a work of art from a mount that is harmful in some way, whether acidic and causing discoloration, or unstable and prone to structural failure. As mentioned earlier, the difficulty we face is that the support frequently has historical or artistic significance and we must weigh the loss of this information against the benefit of intervention. Sometimes it is actually better to leave a work of art as is if there is reasonable justification.

Inpainting is a sticky subject. In the past, it was quite common for restorers to “retouch” paintings, sometimes painting out elements they believed distracting or adding color that the artist did not. Today, our approach is much more limited. When we inpaint it is strictly in the areas where there is detectable pigment loss and we know what was originally there. Contemporary practice frowns upon over-painting original media.

NEXT WEEK, TONY IS GOING TO SHARE THE RATHER  REMARKABLE  HISTORY OF A SINGLE EXCEPTIONAL WORK ON PAPER.  I LOOK FORWARD TO SHARING THE STORY WITH YOU.

TONY AND THE TEAM AT ALVAREZ FINE ART SERVICES ARE COMMITTED TO FINDING EXACTLY THE RIGHT APPROACH AND HAPPY TO ANSWER ANY QUESTIONS OR RESPOND TO ANY CONCERNS.

FIRE AWAY!