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The Art of Conservation Sees
Light at the Getty
By LAURA NOVAK
Published: March 29, 2006 E-Mail This
Printer-Friendly
Malibu, Calif. — A decade Reprints
ago, when the members of Save Article
the J. Paul Getty Trust set
out to redesign the Getty
Villa, a replica of a first-
century Roman building
and the site of the original
J. Paul Getty Museum, they faced several daunting
challenges. Among their priorities were improving parking
and traffic flow in a rugged canyon, enhancing amenities
like food service and anticipating the aesthetic desires of
sophisticated visitors eager to view the museum's treasures
— including Mr. Getty's collection of Greek and Roman
antiquities — in a fresher light.

The trust faced another
critical objective, perhaps
less obvious to the public:
how to better serve the
conservators, the artisans
and scholars who preserve
the artifacts, protect the
work from damage and
determine the correct light
for display.

Marissa Roth for The New York "There's been a profound
Times
shift of the value of
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The Art of Conservation Sees Light at the Getty - New York Times 12/8/09 1:11 PM

Times
Jeff Maish, a conservator at the
shift of the value of
conservation and its
Getty Villa, rebuilds the Altamura
krater, from 460 B.C. professionalism, and the role
that a conservator plays in
the institution," said
Timothy P. Whalen, the
director of the Getty
Conservation Institute in Los
Angeles, a division of the J.
Paul Getty Trust that supports art conservation throughout
the world. (The institute is one of four divisions under the
trust's umbrella; the other three are the Getty Foundation,
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the Getty Research Institute and the J. Paul Getty Museum,
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which includes the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the
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Getty Villa in Malibu.) "Conservators are no longer just
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In the past, conservators were often relegated to basements
with insufficient light and space. Now their elevated status
is marked most clearly by their work spaces, often rooms
with 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 the
Empire State Building. And at the Smithsonian American
Art Museum in Washington, reopening in July, rooms with
glass partitions will allow visitors to view projects.

At the new Getty Villa, which reopened in January, the
conservation space to care for its 44,000 objects has
doubled in size, and many areas are flooded with natural
light.

Upstairs there are four treatment rooms instead of two, each
designed for a specific task. For instance, in one room that
opens onto a sunny courtyard, conservators are
reconstructing a fifth-century vessel, called the Altamura
krater, from fragments — work that will take three years to
complete. The villa's underground levels include a digital
radiography laboratory (four times as large as the previous
one) and tunnels linking conservation rooms with galleries
so artwork never has to be taken outside.
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The Art of Conservation Sees Light at the Getty - New York Times 12/8/09 1:11 PM

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 the
villa. "But these are purpose-built facilities because the
public is taking more of an interest, and because of the
greater awareness on the part of the institutions and their
responsibility to care for their collections."

The villa reopened at the same time that controversies were
dogging the J. Paul Getty Trust and its divisions. Most
recent 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 Rome
on 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 that
can come from conservation and the tools and skills they
have to interpret works of art. The villa is the place where
the synthesis of all these things is best represented."

To make these elements come together, the villa's design
team drew on experience. More than 20 years ago, the
Getty Trust decided to build the Getty Center. Mark
Leonard, the center's conservator of paintings, said the
designers wanted to "weave the conservators into the work
of the museum." He described his vision to the center's
architect, Richard Meier. The result is a space reminiscent
of 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 can
demystify the process."

It is difficult to quantify the number of conservators in this
country because some work for private clients. The
American Institute for Conservation for Historic and
Artistic 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 international
standards in training and a certification program.

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The Art of Conservation Sees Light at the Getty - New York Times 12/8/09 1:11 PM

"I think it's an incredibly attractive field because it
combines art and science or archaeology," said Eryl P.
Wentworth, the institute's executive director. "It's also
hands-on so there is a certain amount of satisfaction of
helping an artifact live longer. That's a very seductive
combination."

In 2005, the Heritage Preservation, a conservation group,
released the Heritage Health Index Report on the State of
American Collections, a study of the needs of collecting
organizations. Financed partly by the Getty Foundation, the
study showed that of the 4.8 billion artifacts in United
States institutions, 190 million needed specific preservation
attention. But only 20 percent of the 31,000 institutions in
the survey said they had paid staff dedicated to
conservation.

According to Mr. Whalen, the Getty spends more on
worldwide conservation — $35 million in 2004 — than any
organization in the United States.

The Getty Conservation Institute, with the University of
California at Los Angeles, has established a graduate
program in conservation at the Getty Villa. There are
classrooms, research space and state-of-the-art laboratories
facing gardens and the ocean.

"Conservation now resides in the privileged parts of
museums," Mr. Whalen said. "So if real estate is any way
to calculate the degree to which institutions value
conservation, I'd say we're getting a lot of good real estate
now."

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