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NYT's Getty Villa Art Conservation

NYT's Getty Villa Art Conservation



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Published by: LauraNovak on Dec 09, 2009
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12/8/09 1:11 PMThe Art of Conservation Sees Light at the Getty - New York TimesPage 1 of 5http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/29/arts/artsspecial/29conserve.html?_r=1&oref=slogin
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Marissa Roth for The New York 
The Art of Conservation SeesLight at the Getty
Published: March 29, 2006
Malibu, Calif. — A decadeago, when the members of the J. Paul Getty Trust setout to redesign the GettyVilla, a replica of a first-century Roman buildingand the site of the originalJ. Paul Getty Museum, they faced several dauntingchallenges. Among their priorities were improving parkingand traffic flow in a rugged canyon, enhancing amenitieslike food service and anticipating the aesthetic desires of sophisticatedvisitors eager to view the museum'streasur es  — including Mr. Getty's collection of Greek and Romanantiquities — in a fresher light.The trust faced another critical objective, perhapsless obvious to the public:how to better serve theconservators, the artisansand scholars who preservethe artifacts, protect thework from damage anddetermine the correct lightfor display."There's been a profound 
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12/8/09 1:11 PMThe Art of Conservation Sees Light at the Getty - New York TimesPage 2 of 5http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/29/arts/artsspecial/29conserve.html?_r=1&oref=slogin
Jeff Maish, a conservator at theGetty Villa, rebuilds the Altamurakrater, from 460 B.C.
shift of the value of conservation and its professionalism, and the rolethat a conservator plays inthe institution," saidTimothy P. Whalen, thedirector of the GettyConservation Institute in LosAngeles, a division of the J.Paul Getty Trust that supports art conservation throughoutthe world. (The institute is one of four divisions under thetrust's umbrella; the other three are the Getty Foundation,the Getty Research Institute and the J. Paul Getty Museum,which includes the Getty Center in Los Angeles and theGetty Villa in Malibu.) "Conservators are no longer justthought of as the people who just clean the painting or don't participate in the conversations that lead a museum,"he said.In the past, conservators were often relegated to basementswith insufficient light and space. Now their elevated statusis marked most clearly by their work spaces, often roomswith views. At the de Young Museum in San Francisco,which reopened last October, conservation rooms overlook Golden Gate Park. At the Morgan Library in New York,which is reopening April 29, the Thaw Conservation Center will have an entire floor of a town house with views of theEmpire State Building. And at the Smithsonian AmericanArt Museum in Washington, reopening in July, rooms withglass partitions will allow visitors to view projects.At the new Getty Villa, which reopened in January, theconservation space to care for its 44,000 objects hasdoubled in size, and many areas are flooded with naturallight.Upstairs there are four treatment rooms instead of two, eachdesigned for a specific task. For instance, in one room thatopens onto a sunny courtyard, conservators arereconstructing a fifth-century vessel, called the Altamurakrater, from fragments — work that will take three years tocomplete. The villa's underground levels include a digitalradiography laboratory (four times as large as the previousone) and tunnels linking conservation rooms with galleries 
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12/8/09 1:11 PMThe Art of Conservation Sees Light at the Getty - New York TimesPage 3 of 5http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/29/arts/artsspecial/29conserve.html?_r=1&oref=slogin
so artwork never has to be taken outside."For so long, conservators have been pushed into the basement in some spare room or something over here or there," said Jerry Podany, conservator of antiquities at thevilla. "But these are purpose-built facilities because the public is taking more of an interest, and because of thegreater awareness on the part of the institutions and their responsibility to care for their collections."The villa reopened at the same time that controversies weredogging the J. Paul Getty Trust and its divisions. Mostrecent was the resignation of Barry Munitz, the trust's president and chief executive, after an investigation by the board of trustees into his personal spending and poor financial oversight. And Marion True, the former curator of antiquities at the J. Paul Getty Museum, is on trial in Romeon charges of conspiring to acquire stolen antiquities. Ms.True played an active part in the villa's redesign."Marion True is a museologist of the first order," Mr.Whalen said. "She understood the profound knowledge thatcan come from conservation and the tools and skills theyhave to interpret works of art. The villa is the place wherethe synthesis of all these things is best represented."To make these elements come together, the villa's designteam drew on experience. More than 20 years ago, theGetty Trust decided to build the Getty Center. Mark Leonard, the center's conservator of paintings, said thedesigners wanted to "weave the conservators into the work of the museum." He described his vision to the center'sarchitect,Richard Meier . The result is a space reminiscentof a 19th-century atelier, with northern light and views of Bel Air and Beverly Hills. "Conservation used to take place behind closed doors," Mr. Leonard said. "Now we candemystify the process."It is difficult to quantify the number of conservators in thiscountry because some work for private clients. TheAmerican Institute for Conservation for Historic andArtistic Works has 3,185 registered members, with an 8 percent increase in the last six months of 2005. With Mr.Podany's help, the institute is establishing internationalstandards in training and a certification program.

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