The Conservation Dept. at Kunstmuseum Basel is responsible for the preservation and technological research on the extensive collection.
In western culture, great importance is attached to the concept of the original.
Contemporary restoration work therefore does not mean “reconstruction”, but has evolved from the insight that originals cannot be replaced and scientific efforts are required to preserve them.
We have therefore adopted the following strategy:
First and foremost, damage to artworks needs to be prevented and pre-emptive restoration undertaken. Negative climatic and light conditions must be avoided. Extreme or swiftly changing ambient climate parameters are something sensitive artworks cannot weather without sustaining damage in the long term. The transportation, handling and exhibition of artworks must be done in a manner that spares them strain wherever possible. It is therefore imperative that they are in protected and controlled environments with a stable ambient climate, reduced exposure to light, and minimized mechanical strain.
There are countless artworks with preservation problems. These may stem from the wrong techniques being used, unsuitable material mixes, or unfavorable historical influences on the original substance.In real terms, a conservation measure may be in order if, for example, layers of grounding or paint protrude, start to peel and lose adhesion and there is the danger of the original substance being lost. Here, we have to intervene to prevent losses of the original substance.
There are artworks that have sustained damage down through time. Moreover, we are aware of countless phenomena that have complicated the reception of an artwork, disturb its aesthetic appeal or create a false impression. Such artworks should be restored to recreate the aura and legibility of the pieces. The intervention must, as stated, only be undertaken as a last resort, and adhere to principles that can be summarized as follows:
a. Maximum knowledge
We seek to gain maximum knowledge of the artist and the artwork. We research the history of the piece in question, its classification in terms of art history, and the artistic intentions, examine the materials used and thus acquire a deeper understanding of the artwork and a clear view of the current issues.
b. Minimal intervention
When conducting conservation and restoration we insist on only doing what is essential. We opt for materials we have long-standing experience of using and where we know how they age and what is reversible. We minimize interventions locally and keep the use of outside materials to only what is absolutely necessary.
c. Documentation and research
We document all knowledge acquired, the work carried out and the materials used, and archive or publish this information for the benefit of science and future generations.
The Museum’s Restoration Dept. is centrally networked as protecting the artworks is something that can only be achieved by a team and even then can only be guaranteed if all departments pursue this goal and pull together.
Deputy Head Conservator
Martin P. Bühler