Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Conservators en masse

I'm just back from the biggest meeting of conservators that I have ever been to - an impressive 1,250 of them meeting under the auspices of the annual conference of AIC, the American Institute for Conservation, in San Francisco.

A well organised event with a good mix of plenary sessions, specialist working groups, a social program and a bit of fun with the big debate.

The theme of the conference was Conscientious Conservation - Sustainable Choices in Collection Care, which was a great setting for my paper reporting on the survey ICOM-CC and IIC have been undertaking into environmental standards around the world. US conservators get the sustainability need for relaxing the tight temperature and relative humidity standards that museums operate under, and are doing great work in strengthening  the scientific case for safely doing so. The view from the UK, when the push for broadening the standards began a few years ago, was that the US would be reluctant to do so, but ironically it is now elements in the UK that are wanting to stick to the current paradigm along with the German, Austrian and Swiss conservation groups. My view remains that we will reach international consensus on the issue based around agreement on evidence based information, but that evidence is at present too limited, so the work by US  conservators in showing us that what happens in the field is hugely useful.

The main reception was in the stunning de Young Museum, opened in its current building in 2012, which was designed by Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron. I can't say I like the exterior with its brutalist facade and prison-like watch tower, but inside it is stunning, including the fab view from the tower. Herzog and de Meuron are the go to architects in the museum space at present having picked up the new contemporary art museum M+ in Hong Kong's West Kowloon Cultural District, the world's biggest cultural development site, and recently the new Vancouver Art Gallery.  Coincidentally, they are also the architects for the redevelopment of Flinders Street Station in Melbourne, which will be a totally stunning transformation of the site when it proceeds.
The next big moment on the conservation horizon comes in September, when for die hard conservation conference groupies, nirvana arrives with the ICOM Committee for Conservation Conference in Melbourne from 15th - 19th, followed by the IIC Congress in Hong Kong from 22nd - 26th.

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