Monday, September 22, 2014

Conservation according to ICOM-CC

I'm in the midst of a busy fortnight of conferencing, having just completed a week in Melbourne at the ICOM-CC Triennial Conference and am now heading to Hong Kong for a further week at the IIC Biennial Conference. The (conference) stars of these two international conservation organisations only align every 6 years for obvious reasons, and for the first time the governing bodies of each have tried to bring them into the same part of the world and to run them in successive weeks. Whether that really works I shall tell you in a week's time!

But I can report on the conservation world according to ICOM-CC or to give its full title, International Council for Museums Committee for Conservation. 650 conservators met in Melbourne with what appeared to be a good spread from around the world, except for Asia, which I hope will be rectified in Hong Kong. The format of ICOM-CC conferences is based around working groups (covering everything from paintings and metals to preventive conservation and education). So, after initial formalities, the week quickly broke up into concurrent sessions of the working groups.

What therefore works wonderfully for me as a self proclaimed generalist (though many years ago I do remember I was a furniture conservator) is the opportunity to graze across working groups, cherry picking issues of interest to me, whilst also trying to ensure I am broadly up to date with what the various conservation disciplines are engaged in.

My highlights were:

  • Two separate papers on Mark Rothko's Untitled (black on maroon) 1958. This was the story of how a painting famously graffiti tagged at the Tate in 2010 was conserved. The first paper was about the analysis of the graffiti paint and the damage it caused, a tour de force in technical examination and research, and the second about its physical removal, a tour de force in patience, not least because the conservator had a time lapse camera on her throughout the nine months that treatment took. 
  • The story of how English Heritage in the face of massive financial and staff cutbacks delivered a new archaeological and architectural elements store that has transformed the quality of storage and access, for about a third of the original budget. A classic example of how necessity can breed innovative thinking.
My broader takeaways were:
  • Our understanding of the cause and effects of mould and dust on objects is getting deeper.
  • Research into contemporary artists' methodologies continues to be a vital tool in informing treatments.
  • Assessing and prioritising the conservation needs of collections has now a number of practical and tested models.
Get hold of the conference preprints if you can, as they contain a vast amount of information on where conservation research and treatment in all their forms are at.

What I can also report is that we made some solid progress in advancing the environmental guidelines for museums debate, through a workshop the day before the conference and a plenary session during the conference. At the former I facilitated a series of discussions between Australian conservators and museum directors, and at the latter we developed a draft position statement on this complex issue. That statement now goes forward to the IIC conference for further debate, the aim being to establish a joint ICOM-CC / IIC position. I will blog further on the details at the end of next week.

Until then, it's Hong Kong here we come.

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