Conservation research is necessary to inform decisions to preserve and treat artworks. Our conservators' research into materials and techniques also contributes additional knowledge about the items in our collection.
Conservation research investigates the history, materials and physical structure of artworks, while also considering artists’ intentions. This information can help identify causes of deterioration to artwork, as well as suitable care and treatment methods. It can contribute to knowledge of artists’ practices and help with investigations into the age and originality of artworks.
An example is the technical examination of artist Guido Reni's Saint Sebastian c1625 by our conservator Sarah Hillary and curator Mary Kisler. The results of their combined research informed a major treatment of this painting and explored questions of authenticity.
Studies into the materials and techniques of New Zealand artists have been a priority for our conservators, and includes research into the work of artists Frances Hodgkins, Gottfried Lindauer, Rita Angus, Colin McCahon and Tony Fomison. A recent collaborative research project into the early use of PVA glue and acrylic paints by New Zealand artists between Auckland Art Gallery, Getty Conservation Institute and Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa contributed to the exhibition, Modern Paints Aotearoa.
We have a growing collection of over 400 time-based media artworks. These works have time or duration as an element and/or rely on technology such as video, film, digital media, audio, computer technologies and light boxes. The 2014 Marylyn Mayo Intern, Brooke Randall, researched the practical needs of this specialist collection to ensure its long-term preservation. You can read more about her internship on the INCAA Asia Pacific website.
Examination of the materials and techniques of an artwork can greatly aid our ability to preserve our collection and make informed treatment decisions. The 2015 Marylyn Mayo Intern, Genevieve Silvester, undertook a technical examination of a painting by Frances Hodgkins. The work appeared to be an oil painting, but was inherently unstable and vulnerable to loss of paint. On closer examination and scientific analysis undertaken at our Conservation Research Centre and in collaboration with the University of Auckland School of Chemistry and Biological Sciences, Genevieve discovered the use of other types of media. Gouache (a type of paint), shellac (a varnish) and possibly casein (a paint binder made from bovine proteins) were found. After this discovery, Genevieve developed a remedy and restored the work to a condition where it can now be both shown in public and preserved for future generations. The conservation work helped to enhance our understanding of Frances Hodgkins' working practices and resulted in an exhibition and accompanying publication.