Session 8: Collections in Historic Buildings - The Japanese and Chinese Paintings at Taliesin: Their Display and Conservation

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This Thursday ended with session 8 relating to Collections in historic buildings, including four cases from four distant places but all related to the care and challenges of exhibition and balance between the building and the collections they house. In this blogspot I will particularly focus on one of the presentations, I will share a brief comment of the case, the most relevant impressions during the live presentation and, at the end, the highlights of the Q&A session.

The relationship between West and East has always been a topic of study and exchange, but also fascination. From the conservation field many projects, programmes and grants were promoted over time looking for a better comprehension from technical and cultural perspectives. Taliesin, the house and studio designed by the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, condenses much of the fascination and cultural exchange between both cultures. The case presented by the Studio TKM Associates :“Japanese and Chinese paintings at Taliesin: their display and conservation” , is a great example of, what they call, cross pollination. This paper is mainly focused on how the paintings were displayed in the west, what were the consequences and challenges for its conservation, and also details the modifications introduced by conservators to obtain better results. The conservators stated that these modifications are not just a matter of saving time, in fact the decision-making criteria was based on a connoisseurship of the Japanese screen construction, the availability of western materials, and the commitment to reduce potential deterioration. Furthermore, the procedures are reversible, and the client was informed and approved all decisions taken.

The presentation was very detailed and easy to follow on technical matters, historical and criteria issues. While the video presentation was running, attendees were curious and asked for reliable sources to learn more about this technique, they also expressed their interest in the project, and their willingness to visit Taliesin.

During the Q&A live session right after the case presentation, Thomas McClintock expanded on the treatment and decisions taken to work on these very delicate paintings. About the possibility of display rotation to mitigate light exposure, he confirmed that was not a viable option due to the specific dimensions of the areas where each painting was installed. In addition, he explained that the possibility of replacing the paintings with photo reproductions was considered some years ago prior to the introduction of UV filtering, non reflective, scratch resistant acrylic, donated by True View, which enabled the re-installation of the paintings in their original location. Regarding environmental context, McClintock stated that the site is continually monitored and, before considering the re- installation of the paintings it was important to mitigate the extremes of temperature and relative humidity and, to address these objectives, it was necessary to install a HVAC system (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) which brought them down to acceptable levels, but not museum conditions.

I would like to add that Studio TKM Associates has extensive experience in the conservation field, the team integrated by Deborah LaCamera, Lorraine Bigrigg and Thomas McClintock, they worked with many institutions and projects over 30 years.

In summary, Taliesin is an excellent case that reflects cultural exchange between West and East, and illustrates the ability to overcome challenges with patience and resourcefulness.

To learn more about Taliesin painting conservation project and Studio TKM Associates, click on the following links:

Author Byline:

Cecilia Romero is an Art and Book Conservator based in Buenos Aires, Argentina