Event Review: Conservation of Public Murals and Street Art: Between the Act and the Thinking

User menu

The masterclass participants, 20│21 Staff, and teachers Maria Chatzidakis, Will Shank and Pedro Soares Neves. Image taken by Marta Palmeira.

Review by Grazia Cavanna

This masterclass was organized by 20│21 Conservação e Restauro de Arte Contemporânea and was held in Porto, Portugal on 14th and 15th of June 2018. The workshop was led by two major street art conservation experts: Maria Chatzidakis, lecturer at T.E.I. of Athens and co-founder of Street Art Conservators (St.A.Co), and Will Shank, independent conservator and curator, co-founder and co-chair of Rescue Public Murals.

Street art and urban creativity is a complex and interesting theme that is gaining importance in different fields connected with visual arts including art production, aesthetics, city planning, urban culture, cultural studies, propriety, copyright, and of course conservation.

Street art is a living expression that has been considered vandalism and an illegal, spontaneous, or un-authorized act for decades. Today many of these talented artists often have problems with the law and with self-subsistence or are considered vandals. Conversely, their works of art are often removed or stolen from their original support and setting (the street) to be canonized within the museum or exploited for their economic value.

It is an interesting and stimulating matter for conservators, communities, art lovers, and citizens who are now asking for conservation. This genre of art is deeply connected with its original context: not a museum, church, or private collection, but the street, with its social complexity and peculiar conservation problems. It’s a privilege to preserve something that is still in its original context, still expressing a message relevant to present-day viewers with the advantage of having the artist working in the present. It is certainly a demanding task to preserve works that were often created hastily utilizing new and often low-cost materials, exposed to pollution, rain, and direct sunlight. These privileges and difficulties require well-structured work and deep thought.

Thanks to 20│21, Maria Chatzidakis, and Will Shank, this masterclass gave participants the opportunity to acquire fundamental knowledge concerning street art techniques, the history of street art conservation, and the most recent conservation research, analysis, and methodology. Moreover, this class has been a great occasion to examine and formulate new questions and to open a fruitful debate not only on street art conservation but also on contemporary art conservation in general. The participant list is an extraordinary group of professionals from different countries including: talented students (Australia, Norway), researchers (Romania), a museum collection manager (Brazil), members of the Ministry of Culture (Netherlands) and the Municipality (Portugal), N.G.O. conservation researchers (Italy), and conservators (Ireland, Italy, Norway, Spain, U.S.A.).

The masterclass was held in Porto, which is 20│21 headquarters but is also a city with a rich past and present history of mural and street art. The first day was completely dedicated to a street art tour around the city. We had the opportunity to admire significant works of art and to meet some of the artists, which also included interviews and fruitful conversation about the purpose of their work, its production, its relationship with the community, materials, techniques, and of course about its conservation. These interviews, which were carried out on-site in front of the artworks in question, allowed the participants to begin to understand the complexity of public artwork, the importance of discussing conservation with the artists, and the role that each work of art has in that specific urban context. The tour focused on close observation of the street art, considering the different techniques and materials used as well as observations about the deterioration processes. Maria Chatzidakis gave the participants examples of nondestructive testing and investigation techniques, and we performed a consolidation treatment test in the presence of the artist. The tour ended at Fundaçäo José Rodrigues where we held a round table discussion with Pedro Soares Neves, researcher and founder of the Urban Creativity and the accompanying publication, Street Art & Urban Creativity Scientific Journal. Pedro illustrated the present trend in studies of the production of street art and its relationship with municipalities, educational programs, and communities. Workshop participants were invited to consider conservation as a bridge between the contemporary artistic creation, the historic values of the city, the public space, and the communities.

During the second day Will Shank gave a thorough overview of the history of wall paintings, focusing in particular on the long history of community murals in the U.S.A. and his personal experience studying and conserving the murals of Keith Haring. Will gave us an overview on applying traditional conservation solutions and ethics to outdoor contemporary painted surfaces as well as insight into collaboration between conservators, artists, curators, art historians, and the community. Special attention was also given to recent studies of street art conservation materials.

Participants also benefited from Maria Chatzidakis’ experience as a professor and street art conservator in Athens, where urban creativity is a widespread and flourishing form of social expression. She focused on the decision-making process of what to preserve and how to do it respectfully. With her many interesting case studies and samples, she demonstrated the abundant variety of art techniques and material deterioration processes, as well as practical solutions for studying, analyzing, and performing both systematic and rescue conservation treatments.

During the second day some of the participants were invited to present their own work. This was an important moment for everybody to learn and share different projects, case studies, and areas of research. I participated in this masterclass as a member of Cesmar7 and researcher for CAPuS project (Conservation of Art in Public Spaces), European Commission research project, co-funded by ERASMUS+- Knowledge Alliances. This was a precious occasion for me to increase and enrich my understanding of the subject, looking beyond conservation methodologies and materials to conservation as an acknowledgment and protection of a cultural asset; this can be done with auxiliary backing such as interviews with artists and stakeholders, study and documentation of the work and its environment, and monitoring the works of art over time. It is only through debate and dialogue with the artist, curators, researchers, and citizens that we are able to formulate inventive and pertinent treatments that are respectful of a particular work and can be used as educational examples.

For a video montage of the workshop, follow this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R0UfH6A78mM


Grazia Cavanna earned a bachelor degree in cultural heritage studies and a master degree in history of art at Università degli Studi di Milano with a dissertation in contemporary art, also graduating as a painting conservator (Enaip, Botticino/Aldo Galli Academy, Como). She works in Milan as an independent painting conservator. Since 2015 she has been an active member of Cesmar7 and now works as a researcher and administrator for the CAPuS project (Conservation of Art in Public Spaces), European Commission research project, co-funded by ERASMUS+- Knowledge Alliances.

Home Page Suppress Text: