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Friday, June 1 • 2:00pm - 3:30pm
(Materiality: A Series of Questions) Materiality: A Series of Questions

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Our recent retirement from actively treating paintings has given us the time to reflect on several aspects of this year’s topic of materials and materiality. These thoughts coalesced into a list of questions about subtopics within the general category of materiality, and some tentative answers to those questions. Both questions and answers address the many changes that we have seen during our more than thirty-five years as conservators, and – more importantly – how we might work to shape future developments in our field.
Questions include:
Do we know as much as we think we do about artists’ materials? Our experience as researchers on painting materials tells us: probably not. Many examples bolster this point, from obvious gaps in specific knowledge about the materials used by many artists at many different periods, to the imprecise names of artists’ materials, to how the aging of specific materials sometimes contradicts longstanding perceived wisdom.
Can we balance our concern for original materials with other concerns – above all, the aesthetic impact of a work of art? Great progress has been made in the last thirty-five years, but much remains to be discussed in terms of the relative importance of the backs and fronts of paintings, preserving or removing “original” varnishes, and “what would the artist think?” as a valid ingredient in our discussions.
Are we communicating with curators and academic art historians about art materials as well as we could? There are many signs of improvement, including summer seminars in technical art history, increasing numbers of art history students who have been taught to care about materials, and literature that takes as its starting point a specific material or color. Curators have always been happy when conservators can provide material evidence that proves authorship or demonstrates a connection between two work of art, but we also see curators beginning to welcome discussions about how a painting’s materials can influence its appearance in more subjective ways, such as understanding a painting’s yellowish color when an artist used too much medium or when a painting cannot be cleaned. Here, too, there is clearly much room for further improvement. Examples include a major misunderstanding on the part of a curator about whether a conservator can tell the difference between a 150-year-old and a 500-year-old painting by studying the painting’s materials. Other occasions of miscommunication concerned problems that a curator believed to be physical faults, but which were actually caused by reflections due to imperfect lighting. Conservators’ concerns with materiality make us particularly sensitive to how uneven lighting, reflections, and shadows of frames can have a more profound effect on a viewer’s experience than many curators or lighting designers appreciate. 
Our final question is an awkward one: Do conservators sometimes dodge tough questions about the ageing of materials? Unfortunately, in some recent cases we think that the answer to this is “yes.” 

Speakers
avatar for Lance Mayer-[Fellow]

Lance Mayer-[Fellow]

Conservator, Private Practice
Lance Mayer and Gay Myers have recently retired from careers as independent paintings conservators for many large and small museums and private collectors. They have treated such paintings as Rembrandt Peale’s The Court of Death at the Detroit Institute of Arts, The Raising of... Read More →
avatar for Gay Myers-[Fellow]

Gay Myers-[Fellow]

Conservator, Lance Mayer & Gay Myers, Conservators
Lance Mayer and Gay Myers have recently retired from careers as independent paintings conservators for many large and small museums and private collectors. They have treated such paintings as Rembrandt Peale’s The Court of Death at the Detroit Institute of Arts, The Raising of... Read More →


Friday June 1, 2018 2:00pm - 3:30pm
TBA

Attendees (30)