Artworks can be damaged in many different ways. Light, changes in temperature and humidity, museum bugs and people can all damage them. Conservators / restorers must learn everything about the artwork before they start to fix it. They have to know a lot about art tools and materials. The most important is to know all of the materials that were used by creating the damaged artwork.

Restoration is a very slow and precise procedure.

Only restorers may restore artworks, otherwise there can be a lot of unnecessary damage done - maybe some that can never be fixed.

Chen Zhen Bed II (the sixth part of the installation Six roots)

As you already know, the artworks travel from one museum to be exhibited at another. Even if they are packed very carefully, there is always the possibility that they might get damaged. An artwork can have an accident as well. That is what happened to the artwork Bed II made of candles, when it travelled from MSU Zagreb to another exhibition. The temperature during the trip was too high, and as candles do not stand heat well, they melted. The only way to save Bed II was to call the artwork doctors – the conservators-restorers. In order to help, just like doctors, conservators-restorers need to get to know the artwork to be able to find the right cure and prescribe the right medicine or treatment. The conservators-restorers at MSU who took care of Bed II knew the artwork very well – they knew its materials and they knew its original condition, so they could fix it and bring it back to its original, good condition.

Their main aim is always to preserve the artwork in its original condition as much as possible, and only very exceptionally are new elements added to replace broken ones. It is an exception, and not a rule, that the new replaces the original, and only if the conservators-restores, after analysing the situation in detail, conclude that only through such an operation can they save the artwork’s life.

That was the case with Bed II, because it was very seriously damaged. Conservators-restorers had to carefully remove the broken parts and replace them with new ones using the same wax for the candles and respecting the shape they had before.

This way, they managed to repair it so well that today no one can tell that it was ever damaged. 

Julije Knifer, MNB

Accidents aren’t the only way artworks might be damaged. As time passes, and if they are not properly taken care of, they get dirty and need to be cleaned. But, if someone who tries to clean them or restore them doesn’t know them and their materials well enough, or was not trained and educated to be a conservator-restorer, damage can occur. The stain on the painting MNB by Julije Knifer was the result of just such a mistake. Again the museum conservators-restorers had to rescue the artwork. They entered their laboratory, looked under the microscope and carefully analysed the paint Julije Knifer used. To be entirely sure, they worked with various scientists and used the most advanced technologies and equipment for their analysis. That enabled them to discover the exact composition of the paint, and they mixed all the necessary ingredients accordingly to create a special cream for Kinfer’s painting. Using it they cleaned the stain without removing the paint below it. The stain disappeared entirely, and the conservators-restorers carefully retouched the damaged area with a new paint whose tone is almost identical to the original.

“Discovering Art” is an educational portal where you can discover interesting facts about art and museums of art.

The online portal Discovering Art is the collaborative effort of four institutions:

Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb, Fundació Antoni Tàpies from Barcelona, Museum of Contemporary Art Vojvodina and Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Koroška from Slovenj Gradec.

The portal is part of the European project Performing the Museum.