Sunday, September 30, 2012

Vienna and Conferences

Spending eight days conferencing in Vienna, as I did earlier this month, sounds like a tough gig, but heh someone's got to attend these conferences or they won't happen. In this instance it was the bi annual Congress of IIC, the International Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic works. I'm a bit of a groupie for these get togethers of conservators from around the world, this being my fourth one. I am also Vice President of IIC.
So what did I bring back from a week in this World Heritage city? As always at IIC conferences, a realisation of the wealth of conservation work which is going on in highly specialised areas all over the world. Conservation papers ranged from treatment of tin relief on thirteenth century Cypriot wall paintings to decorative paint on seventeenth century Flemish harpsichords, wall paintings in Tutankhamen's tomb, crystal torcheres in Hawaii and Le Corbusier kitchens.

Stand out moments for me were Kasi Albert from Artlab Australia tackling the difficult issue of what to do about rivets used in old ceramic repairs, Heather Tetley on the challenges of in situ historic carpet repairs in an aptly tilted paper "Underfoot and Overlooked", and Sarah Staniforth from the National Trust on 'Use it or Lose it", discussing the need to make the National Trust collections accessible, and accept that some damage may occur in the process.

Along the way I could not resist slipping out to explore the extraordinary diversity of Vienna's cultural collections from the fabulous KunstHistoriche Museum to the Albertina. Stand outs for me were:

- the collections of the Natural History Museum, which pays limited lipservice to modern interpretative methodologies and lives by the depth of its collections presented with minimal interpretation in beautiful mahogany showcases in stunningly decorated rooms

- the new Klimt exhibition at the Belvedere which employs a series of apt dual language quotes in English and German written high on the wall of each gallery thus avoiding a cram of people trying to catch up with storyboards

The next IIC Congress will be in Hong Kong in September 2014. As in the same month ICOM's Committee for Conservation will be meeting in Melbourne, it promises to be a big year for conservation conferences.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ecce Homo and Copyright

Rarely does the role of the amateur restorer achieve such notoriety as that of octogenarian Cecilia Gimenez.  In fact I cannot remember a so called ' conservation story ' ( well it involves conservators or likely will do somewhere along the line) making headlines to this extent in the mainstream press.

The basic facts are that Cecilia decided to retouch the 'Ecce Homo" ( Behold the Man) fresco in the Spanish church of Santurario de Misericordia near Zaragoza, by the late nineteenth century Spanish artist Elias Garcia Martinez, as she was concerned by its deterioration.

Unfortunately her efforts left Jesus looking like a very hairy monkey in an ill fitting tunic, hence its new name, 'Ecce Mono' (Behold the Monkey).

The result of all this coverage is that 1,000 people a day are turning up at said church to view the simian look alike, the crowds being such that the entrepreneurial church elders have decided to charge 1 Euro per visitor.

And this is where it gets interesting!  Where does the money go?  Cecilia is claiming copyright as people are coming to see her work, and wants the money to go to charity to support muscular dystrophy from which her son suffers.  The sixteen grandchildren of the artist have different ideas, on the basis they own the copyright.

I'm not sure what the Spanish law will decide, but in Australia I have recently discovered that conservators can in certain instances actually claim copyright over the works they have treated. Although this has yet to be tested in court , it is clear from existing copyright judgements that where the conservator is bringing to the  treatment of the artwork their own artistic ability in terms of independent skill and judgement, then copyright belongs to them.
And it is a principle of copyright law that once the copyright is deemed to be vested in the part of the artwork that has been treated, then the whole work and not just the treated parts become subject to copyright.   Clearly for most of our work as conservators this is not relevant. But when we undertake a major inpainting project or the complete repatination of a sculpture, then it would appear that copyright belongs to the conservator.

Given that Ecce Homo falls into this bracket, it would appear therefore that copyright does belong to Cecilia ( along with the a share of the income from visitors, mousepads, t-shirts, puzzles, travel mugs, mobile phone cases etc etc).