Conservation science uses the applied disciplines of science and engineering to gain a greater understanding of how to best conserve the world's cultural heritage.

At the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI), the objective is to develop and disseminate appropriate and sustainable solutions to conservation problems associated with art objects, architecture, archaeological sites, and monuments.

The GCI's main scientific research goals are to enhance conservation science and technical art history.

Conservation science is focused on studying the deterioration mechanisms of objects of art and—working with conservators—designing, evaluating, and applying conservation treatments that can provide long-term preservation and stability to objects. The ultimate objective of this research is to develop conservation approaches that can slow the deterioration of materials and, if possible, prevent further damage, with a primary emphasis on applicability and sustainability. Using a wide variety of instrumentation and analytical techniques, GCI scientists provide essential information to conservators about: 1) the principal factors influencing damage mechanisms; and 2) compatible treatment options.

In the area of technical art history, the GCI conducts scientific research on the composition of the world's cultural heritage—and on the original technologies used to create works of art—which contributes to the scholarly interpretation of art and artifacts. In addition, GCI Science engages in specialized work to support the activities of the J. Paul Getty Museum and Getty Research Institute, including the dating and analysis of materials, and the authentication and identification of paintings, drawings, manuscripts, photographs, sculpture and decorative arts, and antiquities.

In all its scientific work, the GCI seeks to advance:

  • the principles of preventive conservation in research design and solution strategies;
  • the role of maintenance in the management of cultural heritage;
  • the development of conservation science as a discipline;
  • the importance of always considering first the values embodied in works of art before making any conservation decisions;
  • the development of new procedures and analytical techniques, with particular emphasis on noninvasive portable instrumentation; and
  • the dissemination of research to the conservation community.

GCI Science Staff

GCI Science has approximately twenty-five scientists and support staff. Expertise in the department includes chemistry, biology, geology, materials science, physics, and engineering. Each GCI scientist is a member of and active in one or more conservation and/or science-related organizations.

Areas of Research and Development

The department's projects generally fall into one of seven broad areas:

Projects conducted by the GCI's scientists often pertain to more than one area of research.

To facilitate the work of these seven areas of research and development, the GCI laboratories are equipped with a wide range of modern, up-to-date research instrumentation.

Project Design

GCI Science research projects are designed with interdisciplinary—and often inter-Getty—teams that include scientists, conservators, curators and other related professionals. Most projects are conceived in collaboration with scientists and conservators at other institutions in North America and elsewhere around the world. Through bibliographic studies and consultation with specialists, significant conservation issues are identified. Feasibility studies are conducted prior to final design and implementation.

Dissemination of results is an important objective of all research and is accomplished through didactic materials, presentations at conferences and symposia, and articles in peer-reviewed scientific and conservation journals, as well as Getty publications and the Getty Web site.

Project Partners

GCI Science has developed strong partnerships with museums, conservation organizations, and educational institutions around the world to assist in achieving its research objectives.

A partial list of project partners includes the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), the Museum of Modern Art (New York), Tate (London), the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation (Paris), the Historical Monuments Research Laboratory (Paris), the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, the National Gallery of Art (Washington DC), English Heritage (London), the Supreme Council of Antiquities (Cairo), the Dunhuang Academy (China), the Library of Congress (Washington DC), the National Media Museum (Bradford, UK), the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and many others.