By Timothy P. Whalen
Preserving the world's cultural heritage to advance civil society. We rarely emphasize this message, but this is ultimately what the Getty Conservation Institute does. As a private research institute dedicated to advancing conservation practice, we focus our activities on conservation professionals, and the theory, technology, and science that support their efforts. By bringing together a range of international partners—both public and private—the GCI collaborates in a variety of ways to preserve works of art and historic places so that they may continue to inspire, delight, educate, and inform people around the world for generations to come.
This edition of Conservation Perspectives emphasizes how science and technology can be used to improve our understanding of cultural heritage and conservation practice. We explore collections research, which—as GCI senior scientist Karen Trentelman discusses in her feature article—can encompass a broad range of museum-based scientific research applied to the study of works of art. Collections research is an important part of the work of GCI Science, and is typically conducted with colleagues at the Getty, as well as with colleagues at other institutions whose objectives and interests integrate well with our own.
Examples of these research partnerships are detailed in two articles in this GCI newsletter. One article describes collective scientific research that the GCI is undertaking with several universities and collecting institutions into late Bronze Age glass from Mesopotamia. The other discusses research into early Renaissance workshop practice—research conducted jointly by the J. Paul Getty Museum and the GCI in preparation for an upcoming Getty Museum exhibition. Both these articles demonstrate the benefit to collections research that comes from bringing a multidisciplinary, and sometimes multi-institutional, team approach to research questions regarding works of art.
A third article in this edition describes the ways the GCI is working to further conservation and cultural heritage research by adapting and transferring technology from other disciplines. The modification or adaptation of existing technologies for use in the conservation laboratory is an effective means of advancing scientific research in the cultural heritage field, and one in which the GCI has been engaged for many years. Also in this edition is a thoughtful discussion by conservators and conservation scientists—moderated by David Bomford, the Getty Museum's acting director—that examines changes and challenges related to collections research in the museum environment.