Please Explain: Art Conservation

Friday, May 14, 2010

On this week’s Please Explain we’re looking at the art and science of art conservation.

We’ll find out what tools and technologies—from spectrometers to Q-tips—are used to clean, repair, and restore works of art, and what ethical considerations conservators face in their work. We’re joined by Michael Duffy, paintings conservator at The Museum of Modern Art, and Margaret Holben Ellis, Eugene Thaw Professor of Paper Conservation at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, and Director of the Thaw Conservation Center at the Morgan Library & Museum.


Michael Duffy and Margaret Holben Ellis

Comments [13]

Eliza Spaulding from New York, NY

What a great program! For anyone interested, the American Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Work's website is:

May. 16 2010 07:45 PM
Connie from Westchester

To the caller re: daughter's cartoon art. I, like your guests, I would suggest an acid free environment for the art.This is an interesting field. I wish I could start out all over again...but I am 74 years old. It is so helpful to hear about what is being done in the field.

May. 14 2010 10:43 PM
Merri Ferrell from Northport, NY

Amazing conservation work takes place in museums all the time and it is wonderful to have some press about this important subject. Everything from fragile paper to large objects are conserved and those in the profession combine chemistry, complex analysis, diverse treatments and a strong sensitivity to the artifact/work of art to preserve and reveal. I am grateful to the members of this profession for their work.

May. 14 2010 05:20 PM
Megan from New York City, NY

We are specialists in the restoration and conservation of fine oil paintings. We provide free estimates. Please visit our website at!

May. 14 2010 01:56 PM
Isak from Lefferts Historic House

Have there been advancements in reproductions of at risk archival documents, such as facimilies or are we still using photocopies?

May. 14 2010 01:56 PM
laura from brooklyn, ny

for the caller who called in about framing. as a former framer - going to any frame shop, all the materials that framers work with are acid free and many times archival, so that you know your artwork will be saved/framed safely (you can always ask to make sure). There is also special glass you can get to protect it further. Framers are usually very knowledgeable about what is the safest way to frame your item, that is the benefit of going to a frame shop. the frames you buy in stores are usually not made with acid free archival materials.

May. 14 2010 01:54 PM
Linda from Manhattan

I wanted to remind everyone that some of the greatest "new acquisitions" in our museums have be acquired through cleaning and conservation of works of art: to wit, the new Velazquez on view now at the Metropolitan.

May. 14 2010 01:53 PM
John Gee from New York/Pocono Lake, Pa.

I have always thought that the plastic holders for 35mm or 120 film are good. I use non-PVC archival plastic preservers - so the wrapping says. Are these good? Can I get better products??

May. 14 2010 01:49 PM
John-Paul G from Elizabeth, NJ

To the caller who asked about preserving her daughter's drawings: here's a handy guide of plastic to avoid: if it has color to it at all, it is acidic in nature to be able to display that pigment and will damage the paper.

As the guest suggested, mylar will preserve it. Mylar is what they're using to preserve the Constitution.

May. 14 2010 01:47 PM
David from Long Island City

A museum upstate that contained a lot of colonial and federal period paintings said that they used raw potatoes to clean their portraits.

May. 14 2010 01:37 PM
pliny from soho

exposure to radiation has proved harmful to people.
any thoughts on the effect on paintings?

May. 14 2010 01:32 PM

Maybe we can get some comment or insight on the most notorious "restoration" I'm aware of -- the destruction of the Sistine Chapel. (Oops, did I say destruction? I meant 'restoration'.)

May. 14 2010 12:42 PM
Becky from East Village

New York Theatre Workshop is currently doing a show about the actual restoration of Michelangelo's the David in Florence. The show is appropriately titled Restoration. Tony nominee Claudia Shear wrote and is currently performing the in the show. Shear spent months with the actual restorer, Cinzia Parnigoni, doing research in order to write the script and play the lead role of Giulia, a down-on-her-luck art restorer from Brooklyn who receives the possibly career-reviving job of “refreshing” Michelangelo's sculpture David. Parnigoni restored the David in 2004 for his 500th birthday. Restoration is playing at New York Theatre Workshop now until June 13.

May. 14 2010 11:49 AM

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