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Saturday, May 31 • 1:00pm - 2:30pm
(Book and Paper Session) Art on Paper Discussion Session: 'Reintegrating Design/Deceiving the Eye: Compensation Issues for Works on Paper'

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Compensation for damage and loss in works of art on paper encompasses a broad range of approaches, from the nearly invisible and often intrusive interventions of Max Schweidler in the early 20th century to contemporary innovations. The nature and extent of compensation is the subject of ongoing debate and ethical reevaluation. During this year’s APDG session paper conservators representing diverse philosophies and techniques will give brief presentations on their approaches to compensation.  It is our hope that these presentations will help contextualize and clarify the decision-making process, lead to greater introspection about aesthetic issues in paper conservation, and encourage lively discussion about treatment decisions and techniques.

Aesthetic decisions in conservation inevitably are influenced by the philosophy of a period and culture. In the second half of the 20th century, the pursuit of increased transparency in the field and the development of written ethical standards encouraged a shift to greater restraint, which at times may be at odds with the practical demands that conservators face. Clearly many factors influence the extent and intent of compensation. These include audience and use, cultural traditions, and established aesthetic conventions, such as the pristine quality sought in contemporary works compared with the accepted “patina” of age in older works. Moreover, whether we abstain from visual compensation, insert a toned fill, or inpaint on the original support may affect not only the monetary value of a work but how the work is valued—as art object or cultural artifact. 

Decisions connected with material limitations and the tenet of reversibility may have broader impact; for example, the divergent conventions regarding compensation in paintings and works of art on paper—e.g., extensively-compensated easel paintings versus comparatively conservatively-compensated paintings on paper. While these conventions certainly are influenced by the limitations of the materials, the pursuit of “invisibility” can be appropriate and achievable in paper conservation. Questions remain, however, about how invisible is “appropriate,” and what are the implications of virtually undetectable repairs on scholarship or our understanding and appreciation of the work.

Other persisting issues include the recreation of missing and unknown design elements, the discrete removal of original material toward the goal of stabilizing or visually improving the object, and the dilemma of covering or camouflaging disfiguring stains.  Furthermore, a decision to remove old compensations that interfere with the original must be informed by the historic significance and quality of the repair, and any risk to the object during removal.  Finally, in recent years paper conservators increasingly are exploiting approaches that may reduce or remove the physical hand of the conservator. Such methods may utilize digital techniques to recreate design elements or employ temporary overlays or fills. Even subtly adjusting display lighting may be the solution chosen to meet the aesthetic needs of an object with only limited conservator intervention. We are eager for your participation in the discussion of this challenging topic and invite you to join us!

Session Moderator(s)
avatar for Nancy Ash, [Fellow]

Nancy Ash, [Fellow]

Senior Conservator of Works of Art on Paper, Philadelphia Museum of Art
Senior conservator of works of art on paper at the Philadelphia Museum of Art since 1991. Previously at CCAHA and National Gallery of Art. Co-author of Watermarks in Rembrandt Prints, 1998, systematic study of papers used in Rembrandt's etchings; and of Descriptive Terminology for... Read More →
avatar for Scott Homolka, [Fellow]

Scott Homolka, [Fellow]

Conservator of Works of Art on Paper, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Saturday May 31, 2014 1:00pm - 2:30pm PDT
Grand Ballroom A