Today’s post comes from Julie MacDonald, Class of 2012 and Art Center Student Docent.
Conservation can take on many roles in the treatment of art objects. As discussed in a previous post repainting can be used to save a damaged work. Rips and tears can be repaired, and missing elements of works like sculpture can be recreated to help the viewer visualize the object in its original form.
However, curators and conservationists must make the philosophical choice to make these alterations to the work. These decisions are not made lightly by any means, because any intrusion into the work fundamentally changes our appreciation for the object. Consider the greatest monument to the ancient world—the Parthenon. Our view of the Parthenon for centuries has been that of the white picturesque ruin standing out starkly against the vibrant blue sky. Such a vision has inspired art and architecture through allusions to the pure and simple forms of the classic world. Buildings around the world echo the crisp white of the Parthenon, as well as its structural style and elements, to create a sense of austere power, authenticity, and stability. Yet such a vision of the Parthenon is not how the building would have appeared to its patrons.
Instead the building was highly decorated in polychrome paints, and was covered in sculptural detail. The pure white classical aesthetic has been created separate to the building as it truly was intended, but which vision should visitors appreciate more?
While the Parthenon may be an extreme example of such choices conservators must make, we can look to our own collection to be faced with similar situations. Hawk-eyed visitors to the Art Center may recognize this image,
of painting currently on display that has holes in the canvas. According to the myth accompanying the provenance of the painting the holes are the result of a former owner’s children throwing darts at the painting. So this work is “damaged” some may say, its surface is imperfect and has been affected by a hand other than the artist’s. Should we seek pure perfection in the fine arts we display in museums, or do the imperfections sometimes enhance your appreciation of a work? Does knowing there are holes in the canvas affect your reaction the work as a whole?
What do you think?