The tradition of art conservation with Brad Shar of Lowy’s
LOWY’S STATE OF THE ART CONSERVATION STUDIO IS AN ENVIRONMENT WITH AN ABUNDANCE OF UNOBSTRUCTED NATURAL LIGHT, FACILITATING IDEAL CLEANING AND INPAINTING CONDITIONS. THE STUDIO IS GENEROUSLY EQUIPPED WITH BOTH TRADITIONAL AND INNOVATIVE EQUIPMENT, EVERYTHING REQUIRED TO PROVIDE THE HIGHEST LEVEL OF SERVICE TO CLIENTS WHO RANGE FROM PRIVATE COLLECTORS, GALLERIES AND MUSEUMS. PAINTINGS ARRIVE AT LOWY’S CONSERVATION STUDIO IN A WIDE RANGE OF CONDITIONS, SOME, FOR EXAMPLE, ONLY REQUIRING A LIGHT CLEANING; OTHERS WITH AREAS OF FLAKING OR SURFACE DISTORTIONS. FLAKING AREAS ARE SET DOWN WITH A SYNTHETIC ADHESIVE AND TREATED WITH LOCALLY APPLIED HEAT AND PRESSURE WHILE SURFACE DISTORTIONS ARE TREATED WITH HEAT AND HUMIDITY WHEN POSSIBLE. SOME WORKS REQUIRE RELINING TO ADD ADDITIONAL SUPPORT TO STABILIZE THEM. THESE COMPLEX AND DIVERSE SETS OF CONDITION ARE SOMETIMES EXACERBATED BY AN ARTIST’S USE OF EXPERIMENTAL MATERIALS AND TECHNIQUES. THE CONSERVATORS AT LOWY’S EXAMINE EACH WORK CAREFULLY TO DETERMINE THE MOST APPROPRIATE CONSERVATION AND CLEANING METHODS. IT’S A VERY LABOR INTENSIVE PROCESS THAT REQUIRES SENSITIVITY TO THE ARTIST’S INTENT AS WELL AS EXTENSIVE KNOWLEDGE OF CHEMISTRY AND SCIENCE, TRADITIONAL AND INNOVATIVE CONSERVATION TECHNIQUES AND TRAINING.
BRAD SHAR, VICE PRESIDENT AND GENERAL MANAGER AT LOWY, HAD BEEN WORKING ALONGSIDE HIS FATHER IN THE FAMILY BUSINESS SINCE 1991. BRAD HAS A DEGREE IN ART HISTORY AND A PASSION FOR TECHNOLOGY, THE PERFECT FIT TO CONTINUE THE LEGACY OF LOWY: RESPECT AND EXPERIENCE IN CENTURIES OF FRAMING AND CONSERVATION AND AN INNOVATIVE SPIRIT EAGER TO EXPLORE NEW CONSERVATION, FRAMING AND TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCES, SUCH AS LOWYSCAN, A GREAT DIGITAL IMAGING SYSTEM THAT BRAD INTRODUCED TO LOWY’S CLIENTS FOR STATE-OF-THE-ART FRAMING.
BRAD, WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF ART CONSERVATION? HOW HAS IT EVOLVED AND HOW HAVE THE TOOLS AND EQUIPMENT CHANGED EVEN BETWEEN THE TIME LARRY SHAR, YOUR DAD, STARTED AT LOWY AND WHEN YOU JOINED THE COMPANY?
This is an interesting topic, and it relates in every way quite directly to the history of the art business in America and Europe. As lore has it, my grandfather became one of the earliest “Art restorers,” in New York history, and this came about due to a very typical depression era phenomenon, which was the basic need for employment. My grandfather, trained as an accountant, came to New York in the 1930s, and having a cousin who managed the Lowy firm, went to work in maintenance. Having a keen eye for art, he began learning the craft of restoration, and eventually rose to master it, and later own the company. In those days, the method of reinforcing a deteriorating canvas, was to apply hot wax, between the new and old canvas layers. In the 1980s, a chemical adhesive, BEVA 371, became the new standard for linings. By this time, as well, Universities in Europe and the U.S. had established curriculums to educate students in the more standardized field which has now become known as Art Conservation. Modern conservation involves national and international organizations who share techniques, knowledge, discoveries, and of course technology, which is constantly evolving.
HOW ARE OLD MASTERS, AND MORE TRADITIONAL PAINTINGS ON CANVAS, TREATED AND DO THE SAME CONSIDERATIONS APPLY TO CONTEMPORARY WORK?
All oil paintings can be approached the same way, and by a specific set of rules, though the age of paintings, as well materials used tend to present a different set of common problems associated with artworks of different periods. For example, old master paintings are commonly done on wood panels, or even copper. It’s also common to come across old master paintings in need of conservation, which have been restored long ago, and could have evidence of old techniques such as cradling, which needs to be addressed as part of the new necessary treatment.
In contrast, when it comes to the approach to contemporary works, it’s extremely common for the artists to have worked in materials which are not meant for longevity. Whereas, old master era artists, and even artists through the 19th Century were trained for their craft at academies and universities, modern art after about 1960s is widely categorized by more renegade artists, who frequently rejected the traditionally taught methods of creating oil paintings. This resulted in many of these artists creating works by using materials that are not meant to stand the test of time. Many of these artworks are now valued in the hundreds of thousands, and even millions. The approach to conservation of these contemporary masters can be widely varied due to the inconsistency of materials used. We tend to work on a pretty even split between traditional paintings and contemporary ones.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE PARTICULARLY MEMORABLE WORKS THAT HAVE BENEFITED FROM LOWY’S EXPERT CONSERVATION METHODS? PLEASE SHARE SOME OF THE CASE STUDIES THAT COME TO MIND.
One of the most notable and interesting projects in our history were the Maxfield Parrish “Old King Cole,” murals, which hang in the bar of the St. Regis hotel. My grandfather Hilly Shar, and his partner John Sisto, teamed up to restore these murals in the early 1960s. One of the things we’re proudest of in our conservation lab, is our large scale modern hot table, which allows us to treat works of this scale. Interestingly, years later a private client of ours purchase 2 Parrish murals from the Old King Cole series, for use in a private home, and our team of conservators was able to restore them using modern techniques in 2011 and 2013 respectively. Modern materials were used in the recent work, but the craft and attention to detail is essentially the same.
WHAT WERE SOME OF THE MOST CHALLENGING CONDITIONS THE CONSERVATION STUDIO HAS CONFRONTED IN ITS HISTORY AND HOW HAVE THEY BEEN SOLVED?
The most challenging conditions usually occur when we have to work on paintings on location. The short answer to solutions is where there’s a will there’s a way. We’ve worked on large-scale canvases at beach homes with high-humidity, and used anything from hair dryers to hand irons to aid in the process.
Another challenging condition we face frequently is the presence of natural resin varnishes on oil paintings that are stubborn to remove. Our younger staff members who are trained in chemistry will make diluted solutions of chemicals like acetone, and make small tests to determine what solution will be most effective at removing the varnish, without endangering the paint layer.
IN OUR NEXT LRFA BLOG, BRAD WILL EXPLORE SOME OF THE INNOVATIONS THAT HAVE PROFOUNDLY CHANGED THE TECHNIQUES AND APPROACH OF ART CONSERVATION, THE DEMANDS OF STAYING CURRENT IN THIS EVER EVOLVING FIELD THAT DEMANDS BOTH SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE AND AESTHETIC SENSITIVITY.
BE SURE TO CHECK OUT THE CASE STUDIES ON LOWY’S SITE – EACH EXAMPLE IS A FASCINATING JOURNEY OF THE ART OF CONSERVATION. http://www.lowynyc.com/#!casestudies/c65q