Innovation and Visualization: Trajectories, Strategies, and Myths

By Amy Ione | Go to book overview
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Chapter 12
Viewing the Past:
Conservation and Restoration Studies

The history of painting is the history of visual ideas expressed in
material form Physical transformation begins the moment a
painting is completed. Changes result from interaction of the
artist’s materials, from exposure to light and ordinary atmospheric
conditions, such as seasonal humidity changes, as well as from
extraordinary conditions such as fire and floods. Human
intervention causes other significant changes, as when offensive
subject matter is removed or obscured; artworks are reworked in
an updated style; ensembles are disassembled, as with altarpieces;
canvases are cut down; and works are restored, even with the best
intentions.

Andrea Kirsh and Rustin S. Levinsen,
Seeing Through Paintings: Physical Examination in Art
Historical Studies

In the first chapter I suggested that a visit to an art conservation laboratory would quickly expose a history hard to decipher from our first impression of a work. Here trained practitioners preserve artifacts that might range from paintings and woodcuts to photographs and projects constructed using pixels or video. Efforts to maintain these products, our human heritage, rely on tools that remind us that many technologies of recent origin allow us to look beneath the surface appearance of these objects. Moreover, technological advances can place us in a number of eras, as the range of apparatus artists use show. In the conservator’s laboratory we find instruments like infrared cameras as well as mortars, pestles and ground pigments. This variety allows us to envision the tantalizing ways in which the technologies of old now meet those of today.


1. Conservation and Preservation

In the introduction to this book I wrote about how differently people might respond when visiting a conservation laboratory. All that an examination of X-ray images brings to light might fascinate an

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