Eastern Courier : May 20th 2011
8 EASTERN COURIER, MAY 20, 2011 NEWS Warming to the art of restoration By HANNAH SPYKSMA Delicate work: Auckland Art Gallery principal conservator Sarah Hillary. Photos: JASON OXENHAM Close scrutiny: Art conservator Ingrid Ford takes a close-up look at a painting. Preserving art: Art conservators Nel Rol and Angela Ruegger carefully move a painting. Careful work: Conservator Sarah Hillary works on restoring a painting. Work in progress: Sarah Hillary with some of the works being restored. It may be chilly outside, but tucked away at the back of a building on Khartoum Place, the Auckland Art Gallery's conservation department stays constantly warm. Conditions need to be per- fect to house some of the world's most sought-after art. The sterile room -- the size of a city apartment -- is quiet and calm, a stark contrast to the streetscape outside where contractors toil away on gal- lery renovations. Several conservators are hard at work, concentrating on creating the perfect con- ditions needed for restoring paintings that are older than our country. Unframed Lindauer por- traits lie next to 15th century paintings, which sit near gilded frames that beg for attention. On another table, stained- glass windows from a church in the Netherlands rest un- wrapped on the hard surface, halfway through a well- needed clean. They date back to 1682. Do not touch anything'' reads a black and white bold- type sign leaning against a wall above a shelf dotted with rows of potted paint. Lead conservator Sarah Hillary's team is working on restoring art that will feature in the newly renovated art gallery for its opening exhi- bition in September. One treatment could take a few days or months, depending on the history and previous upkeep of each work. Unfortunately, there's a lot of people who do damage the art and then we are left to pick up the pieces,'' she says. In the mid-1900s many artworks suffered at the hands of conservators who used tacky methods, often scarring the paintings with noticeable changes. A century or so before that, there was a phase of chang- ing and removing old frames -- something that would never happen now. Ms Hillary says this reduces the value of the paintings because it changes them permanently. Conservators in New Zea- land take a minimal approach to restoration. Methods include putting a painting under ultraviolet light to reveal the minute changes made. Paintings are also cleaned with cotton buds and an appropriate solution which depends on the medium. Ms Hillary points out one work from the 1940s on an easel in the corner, which is going through its first treat- ment. She delicately cleans it, leaving the cotton a musty brown colour -- apparently from years of smoke pol- lution. The abstract John Tunnard painting most likely hung on the wall of someone's house where it was exposed to ciga- rette smoke and anything else in the environment. Another technique uses an infra-red machine to capture each layer that has been applied to the art, giving a complex insight into the artist's technique. You really want to know more about the painting than the artist because if they had an unusual technique you need to be able to account for that. This doesn't really give you the answer to fixing it, but it just means you're bet- ter informed,'' Ms Hillary says. Lindauer, for example, first sketched the intricate facial moko of his subjects using pencil, layering as he went -- a completely different tech- nique to Goldie. Once the renovations are complete, the conservation team can move the paintings back into public display. Visit easterncourier. co.nz to see a slideshow on art conservation.
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