The Conser­va­tion De­part­ment at the Mu­se­um Lud­wig

The conser­va­tion of art­works at a mu­se­um is one of the four pil­lars of mu­se­um work along with col­lect­ing, re­search­ing, and ex­hibit­ing/ed­u­cat­ing. One of the fun­da­men­tal tasks of the conser­va­tion de­part­ment at the Mu­se­um Lud­wig is thus the long-term preser­va­tion of the art­works in the col­lec­tion. Th­ese in­clude in­s­tal­la­tions, sculp­tures, paint­ings, draw­ings, pho­to­graphs, videos, and out­door sculp­tures, among other things. The conser­va­tors work­ing at the mu­se­um are all gra­d­u­ates of vari­ous aca­dem­ic pro­grams and de­part­ments of res­to­ra­tion and conser­va­tion.

A large part of a conser­va­tor’s work­day is spent doc­u­ment­ing the con­di­tion of the in­di­vi­d­u­al art­works in the per­ma­nent ex­hi­bi­tion and tem­po­rary ex­hi­bi­tions as well as loans. The han­dling (mov­ing and tran­s­port) as well as in­s­tal­la­tion and re­mo­val of art ob­jects are pre­pared and su­per­vised by the conser­va­tion de­part­ment. Spe­cial pro­ce­dures, mea­sure­ments, and di­rec­tions for the art­work are doc­u­ment­ed in in­s­tal­la­tion in­struc­tion­s—­for ex­am­ple, where and how it should be placed in the ex­hi­bi­tion space. When art­works from the Mu­se­um Lud­wig’s col­lec­tion are loaned to mu­se­ums in Ger­many and abroad, their con­di­tion is al­so checked on site by conser­va­tors from the Mu­se­um Lud­wig, who su­per­vise the in­s­tal­la­tion and re­mo­val. Par­tic­u­lar­ly in the case of very frag­ile ob­jects, conser­va­tors ac­com­pany the works dur­ing tran­s­port.

At the be­gin­n­ing of each res­to­ra­tion, the same ques­tions are asked about an art ob­ject, which can lead to dif­fer­ent an­sw­ers:

What does the ob­ject look like?
What is the ob­ject made of?

How is it con­struct­ed, and what ma­te­rials did the artist work with?
What con­di­tion is the ob­ject in?
What is the artist’s in­ten­tion?
What led to its cur­rent con­di­tion?

Tech­ni­cal ex­am­i­na­tions can pro­vide in­for­ma­tion about the ma­te­rials and tech­niques used by an artist and are al­so used to ver­i­fy au­then­tic­i­ty. The conser­va­tion de­part­ment at the Mu­se­um Lud­wig col­lab­o­rates with vari­ous sci­en­tif­ic lab­o­ra­to­ries and uni­ver­si­ties in or­der to re­solve th­ese ques­tions and pro­fes­sio­n­al­ly pre­serve art­works.

Thus, each res­to­ra­tion is based on look­ing, ob­serv­ing, de­scrib­ing, and un­der­s­tand­ing what hap­pens to the work as a whole. The conser­va­tor first asks what led to the da­m­age. Is it an in­her­ent as­pect of the ob­ject (due to its con­struc­tion or ma­te­rial)? Did it oc­cur due to the han­dling? Or, for ex­am­ple, did the ex­hi­bi­tion con­di­tions lead to the ob­ject’s cur­rent con­di­tion? Op­ti­mal light­ing and en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions in stor­age and ex­hi­bi­tion spaces slow down degra­da­tion and ag­ing pro­cess­es, as has been im­pres­sive­ly de­mon­s­trat­ed in sci­en­tif­ic studies.

All th­ese ob­ser­va­tions are re­cord­ed in a de­scrip­tion of the con­di­tion, which is used to de­vel­op an in­di­vi­d­u­al res­to­ra­tion con­cept. This in­cludes ma­te­rial anal­y­s­es and tests on spe­cial­ly de­vel­oped sam­ples in or­der to pre­pare and car­ry out pro­fes­sio­n­al res­to­ra­tions.

The aim is not—as is of­ten as­sumed—­to re­s­tore the art­work to a like-new con­di­tion. The goal is al­ways to sta­bi­l­ize the cur­rent con­di­tion of an art­work so that no fur­ther da­m­age oc­curs. The fo­cus is on pre­serv­ing the art­work ac­cord­ing to the artist’s in­ten­tion and be­ing able to pre­sent it to vis­i­tors. All mea­sures un­der­tak­en dur­ing a res­to­ra­tion are doc­u­ment­ed and re­cord­ed in pho­to­graphs and writ­ing for ref­er­ence dur­ing lat­er res­to­ra­tion work.

At the end of the ac­tive res­to­ra­tion stage, there is of­ten the ques­tion of how to best pre­sent the work in the ex­hi­bi­tion spaces and how to pack it prop­er­ly. This is what is re­ferred to as pre­ven­ta­tive conser­va­tion mea­sures, which in­clude pro­tec­tive pack­ag­ing made of archi­val-grade ma­te­rials, pro­tec­tive glass, spe­cial mounts, ma­te­rials to pro­tect against vi­bra­tion on the backs of paint­ings, and pest ma­n­age­ment to pre­vent fur­ther da­m­age.

The con­di­tion of new­ly ac­quired art is al­so doc­u­ment­ed by the conser­va­tion de­part­ment. Pre­ven­tive and conser­va­tion mea­sures are al­so ne­ces­sary for works of mod­ern and con­tem­po­rary art in or­der to pre­vent or slow down pro­cess­es of da­m­age and degra­da­tion. Mod­ern and con­tem­po­rary art us­es many ma­te­rials and me­dia that are not re­sis­tant to ag­ing, which are of­ten sig­ni­f­i­cant­ly more un­sta­ble than hand-made pre-in­dus­trial art ma­te­rials.

In or­der to pre­serve the artist’s in­ten­tion, the Mu­se­um Lud­wig col­lab­o­rates with artists and the ad­min­is­tra­tors of their es­tates on ne­ces­sary res­to­ra­tion pro­jects. In or­der to fos­ter the cont­in­ued trans­mis­sion of knowl­edge, the Mu­se­um Lud­wig’s conser­va­tion de­part­ment co­op­er­ates with in­ter­na­tio­n­al uni­ver­si­ties where conser­va­tion is taught as well as with free­lance conser­va­tors and sup­ports uni­ver­si­ty ed­u­ca­tion in conser­va­tion by su­per­vis­ing aca­dem­ic th­e­s­es.