HOW CONDITION AFFECTS VALUE AND THE FUTURE OF CONSERVATION WITH EXPERT PAPER CONSERVATOR ANTHONIO ALVAREZ
ANTONIO ALVAREZ, CO-FOUNDER OF ALVAREZ FINE ART SERVICES THAT SPECIALIZES IN PAPER CONSERVATION AND RESTORATION SUMMARIZES THE PRIMARY GUIDELINES FOR THE COLLECTOR OF WORKS ON PAPER AND SPEAKS OF THE MARKET VALUE OF RESTORED AND TREATED WORKS. HE EXPLORES THE FUTURE OF THIS RARIFIED AND DEMANDING PROFESSION. HERE ARE A FEW REMAINING QUESTIONS TO INFORM US FURTHER ABOUT THIS SPECIALIZED ASPECT OF ART COLLECTING.
WHAT IS THE PRIMARY GOAL OF CONSERVATION? DOES IT RETURN THE WORK TO A STATE THAT IS CLOSE TO ITS ORIGINAL CONDITION OR CAN IT ONLY ACT TO STABILIZE A WORK AND PREVENT FURTHER DETERIORATION?
Each project, each work of art, requires us to ask this exact question. Sometimes what may be perceived as a condition issue is, in fact, integral to the work of art. For example, when we evaluate an artwork for treatment we may find the material that is causing deterioration has historical importance. Frequently we decide it is best to leave the work on the original, though acidic, support and minimize our intervention if the mount is signed or inscribed by the artist or integral to the design.
As a private practice conservation studio we must also manage the expectations and desires of our clients and weigh them against what treatment is possible and ethical. Our primary goals are to pleasure our clients, give them the knowledge to help care for their art, and ensure our treatments and procedures and the preservation of each work of art.
WHEN DO YOU ADVISE CLIENTS TO FOREGO ANY CONSERVATION? WHAT ARE SOME OF THE GUIDELINES YOU WOULD RECOMMEND IN THIS DECISION-MAKING PROCESS?
Cost, risk and results are the three things anyone pursuing conservation should consider. First, how much will the treatment cost? If the work is going up for sale it wouldn’t make sense to invest more in conservation treatment than the piece is worth but if it has sentimental value, then it may be priceless to that individual. Secondly, risk plays a large part in the decision-making process once a treatment plan has been outlined. There is always an element of risk, however small, when a work of art undergoes treatment. The conservator should be frank with the client and both parties should share in the responsiblity of choosing to proceed with a treatment plan. The client should be aware of the risk and the conservator should take every precaution possible to ensure an effective treatment. Last, knowing what results are expected is important to the decision whether or not to proceed with treatment. Some stains, such as adhesives, are very difficult to remove while others can be blotted off paper. Other conditions might even return post-treatment if the work is not stored or handled properly. There are no guarantees in conservation, so finding a conservator you can trust to give you the facts to make a decision is invaluable.
HOW MUCH DOES THE CONDITION OF A WORK ON PAPER AFFECT ITS VALUE?
Although we are frequently asked this question, value is a subject best posed to a certified appraiser. Every artwork or document brought to us for evaluation and treatment is handled and cared for as if it were priceless. In fact I don’t think we could do our job well if we were aware of the real value of much of the art we work on. It would be too frightening. But talking in generalities, it is broadly assumed that the condition of a work of art affects its value, and this is precisely the reason why our clients bring work for treatment – they may be looking to put the painting up for sale or auction and want to realize the best price for it but just because a work of art has a condition issue, that should not make it undesirable, it’s simply another factor to consider before purchase or sale.
HOW DO YOU PLAN TO CONTINUE TO EXPAND YOUR BUSINESS? IS CONSERVATION TAUGHT IN SCHOOLS OR IS IT NECESSARY TO LEARN ON THE JOB? DO OUR GREAT SCIENTIFIC AND TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCES AFFECT CONSERVATION?
Thanks to the professionals who staff conservation labs around the world, there are new techniques continuously developed and shared within the field through conferences and publications. We are always looking for better and safer methods to do our work.
Experience is paramount in conservation, but a solid knowledge of chemistry is also essential. Though there were a number of pre-academic conservators still in practice today (self-taught individuals with a dual background in both arts and sciences, of which I am one, today most conservators obtain a graduate degree or diploma in a specialty and then spend years learning specific techniques with a mentor. In this way, the field is still very guild-like.
Though Alvarez Fine Art Services has grown over the past decade, we have always been a small company we are currently a team of six specialists – because we believe this way we can focus on the quality of our services and skills. Who knows where the industry will take us, but we will continue to strive to stay current, learn new procedures and participate in the changing field of conservation as the materials artists use change with time.
THANK YOU, ANTONIO, FOR YOUR WONDERFULLY INFORMATIVE BLOG. THE DEDICATION AND EXACTITUDE THAT YOU BRING TO YOUR FLAWLESS CONSERVATION IS EQUALLY APPARENT IN THIS INTERVIEW.
IN THE NEXT BLOG I HAVE THE PLEASURE OF EXPLORING A CRUCIAL AND PERHAPS CONTROVERSIAL ASPECT OF THE AUCTION WORLD AS THE CHRISTIE’S SPECIALIST IN POST-WAR AND CONTEMPORARY ART, MY COLLEAGUE AND FRIEND, BARRETT WHITE, WILL INFORM US ON THE ASPECT OF PRIVATE SALES.
I WELCOME ANY COMMENTS AND AM PARTICULARLY HAPPY TO ANSWER ANY QUESTIONS OR SEEK OUT THE
PERFECT SOURCE FOR THE ANSWER.