Reflection on the conservation and restoration of works of art

To question the object is also, beyond its form or meaning, to question time – our relationship to origin, past or future. Nowhere, however, is this question more crucial than in the act of conserving or restoring the art object: for the intervention places it in a field of sometimes heterogeneous values. It is through the axiology that differentiated conservative or restorative practices take shape. The practitioner therefore becomes, in the literal sense, a “teacher”: he gives meaning to the signs, he educates our gaze to the object preserved in its authenticity and teaches us to listen to it respectfully.

Art object, work of art

The object from the past is, first of all, “art object” – an expression that we will take here in the sense of an artefact, that is to say: product of a human activity. The art object can be singular or plural, replicating the same form in several copies. If it is singular and has no other function than to tend towards an “endless finality” it assumes, according to the criteria of Kantian aesthetics, the status of “work of art” and enjoys the prestige inherent in a unique, original, authentic creation (concepts whose specifically Western basis should be emphasized).

To preserve or to restore?

Where did it all start? Preserve, or restore? Man, in a society of scarcity, tends first of all to conserve, to keep, to preserve what he has the use of. And, if this use is mortgaged by one of the avatars of the object, to repair it, to restore it, so that it continues to fulfill its role. One thus preserves and restores for the same reason: essentially pragmatic. The use of staples in porcelain plasterwork bears witness to this concern, and to these practices: it has no aesthetic purpose, is not justified by the religion of the ancient, but simply tries to “make serve” again.

Things become less clear when the aesthetic concern emerges. The Italian Renaissance fell in love with the Beauty bequeathed to it by the Ancients, a Beauty all the more precious because it transcends time, barbaric eras, to bear witness to a golden age. An age that we want to revive… resurrect… re-establish… restore… In this perspective, the mark of time is perceived as a degradation of the beautiful object. It loses its purpose, in short: that of being beautiful. It is therefore necessary to erase the stigmata of time, a factor of alteration, in order to regain the original perfection. To restore, in this context, is to return to the original state, perceived as prevailing.

How and with whom to entrust your antique artwork’s appraisal?
Restoring pictorial artworks in a few steps