By Jeanne Marie Teutonico and staff of the GCI
To achieve our objectives, we rely on a strong, multidisciplinary staff that includes over sixty conservators, architects, archaeologists, scientists, educators, and other professionals. Over the years, the GCI has developed expertise in a number of core areas that include preventive conservation, monitoring and control of museum environments, conservation and management of archaeological sites, methodologies for materials analysis, earthen architecture, and the conservation of architectural surfaces, such as wall paintings and mosaics.
The Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) works internationally to create and deliver knowledge that will benefit the professionals and organizations responsible for the conservation of the visual arts in all their dimensions—objects, collections, architecture, and sites. The ultimate goal of the GCI is to advance conservation thinking and practice through research, education and training, model field projects, and the dissemination of information in a variety of forms.
However, what perhaps distinguishes the GCI from many other conservation organizations is our capacity to identify conservation needs outside conventional boundaries. Because we are not a political or governmental institution, we have the opportunity to tackle questions of broad theoretical and practical significance to the conservation profession, even those that have resisted solution for many years. We select our projects based on their potential for impact or resonance beyond a particular artifact or initiative, and we always look for a strong research and/or educational component. Of course, we continue to work in the thematic areas where we have expertise and experience, but we are also free to explore new areas in light of identified needs.
In all its endeavors, the GCI is greatly enriched by working in collaboration with a broad variety of partners, both at the Getty and beyond in the international community. Through cooperation with governments, universities, and other conservation organizations, we both extend our mission and leverage our resources to better serve the conservation profession at large. Through our collaborative relationships, we also attempt to build capacity where it does not exist and to forge institutional alliances that complement our own expertise and experience.
Organizationally, the GCI is divided into four departments that work together to advance particular aspects of its mission. The Field Projects group collaborates with a variety of international partners to develop and implement model projects that incorporate strong research, planning, and educational objectives. The Science group carries out applied research across a broad spectrum of thematic areas to address unsolved conservation problems, understand the deterioration of historic buildings and sites, develop analytical methodologies, and advance the field's research agenda. The Science group also works in close cooperation with colleagues at the both the Getty Museum and the Getty Research Institute to better understand particular objects and to provide information valuable for their conservation, interpretation, and use.
The Education group works across departmental boundaries to develop courses and other midcareer educational opportunities, produce publications and didactic materials, convene educators, and advance conservation pedagogy. Finally, the Dissemination and Research Resources group oversees the dissemination of information in a variety of media, manages the GCI's guest scholars and interns, and develops public initiatives at both the Getty Center and the Getty Villa.
The short articles that follow describe a few of the GCI's projects, past and present, illustrating how we have worked in a number of areas and with diverse partners to advance thinking and practice in the conservation field. Our cultural heritage, from museum collections to archaeological sites, is increasingly threatened by competing economic interests, rapidly expanding cities, political instability, and mass tourism, to name just a few factors. It is our hope that the work of the GCI will assist those entrusted with the care of our cultural patrimony to have the knowledge and skills needed to ensure its survival for future generations.
Jeanne Marie Teutonico, Associate Director, Programs
The Getty Conservation Institute
Museum Lighting Research
Damage to objects caused by light is the only environmental hazard that museums cannot completely eliminate while maintaining their mandate to exhibit their collections. To fulfill this obligation one must accept some level of inevitable damage. It is therefore imperative to limit that damage to the absolute minimum.
Highly light-sensitive artifacts have always been troublesome to display. Minimizing exposure for these works while providing display environments that render light-sensitive color palettes literally in the best possible light is far trickier than for more robust, light-stable objects, such as paintings and sculpture. To make light-sensitive artifacts last for as long as possible with as little change as possible, exhibitions are shortened, artifacts are put on a low-travel diet, and lighting is distinctly warm and dim—a condition that sacrifices the color relationships in these compositions. There are few, if any, other options.
The GCI's collaborative Museum Lighting project, begun in 2002, asks if other possibilities can be offered for the display of these works. The GCI undertook this project because solutions, if they are to be found, would necessarily involve many collaborators, sophisticated engineering and scientific support, and the ability to persist in the face of a high risk of failure.
Old master drawings are the focus of the research. Some lightsensitive artifacts have a naturally limited color range. Some have less light-sensitivity, and some are so valued for their artistic and art-historical merit that they are frequently requested for exhibition. Because old master drawings encompass these three conditions, they allow researchers greater latitude than most light-sensitive artifacts for research into new ways of thinking about lighting.
The project is investigating the possibility of altering the visible spectrum of display lighting without sacrificing the viewer's experience. In exhibition lighting, removing wavelengths to which the human eye is insensitive has been acceptable practice for forty years. But removing light energy within the visible portion of the light spectrum is fraught with potential aesthetic problems. The GCI and its project partners are undertaking the substantial research required to determine how to optimize color rendering while reducing overall energy to acceptable levels. This includes investigating the use of three-band filtered light sources (e.g., red-green-blue, the approach used in computer monitors), primarily with thin coatings applied to glass. The project—which has demonstrated that such complex coating systems, involving fifty or more layers, can actually be made—is currently testing the aesthetic results of the first three filter models on a group of conservators, curators, and other museum professionals.
In addition to altering the spectrum of the illuminant, the project is also conducting large-scale surveys of colorants (artistic and biological) under oxygen-free atmospheres, to better understand the extent to which differences exist in reducing the risks of photo-oxidation and photo-reduction color change.
The findings from this project's research can potentially aid a full range of institutions—from fine art museums to natural history collections—in meeting their mandate to display the objects in their care while preserving them for future study and enjoyment.
The Gels Cleaning Research Project
Proper cleaning of museum artifacts is among the most basic and important treatment processes conducted by conservators. Typical cleaning procedures involve the use of common organic solvents to selectively remove aged varnishes or overpaints. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to remove these layers without damaging underlying original layers, due to limited control over the solvent cleaning process. Toxic solvent vapors also pose health risks to conservators. For these reasons, the search for optimal cleaning methods has been a significant part of conservation research.
In the early 1980s, Richard Wolbers at the University of Delaware introduced gels cleaning systems to the conservation community. These systems offered conservators greater control by allowing the preparation of mixtures tailored to remove specific layers while minimizing exposure to harmful solvent vapors. However, widespread adoption of gels systems was tempered with concerns regarding potential long-term effects of residues that may remain on surfaces after cleaning.
A core aspect of the GCI's mission is enhancing the ability of conservation professionals to do their work. Recognizing that research on gels systems could facilitate the use of this unique conservation tool, the GCI undertook a major project in 1998 to address questions related to this cleaning approach, in partnership with the Getty Museum; the Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library; the Winterthur University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation; and the Department of Chemistry at California State University, Northridge.
The five-year Gels Cleaning Research Project tackled a number of significant issues, including identifying and quantifying gel residues remaining on surfaces and assessing their potential for long-term damage to artworks. The project's findings, which were periodically disseminated to the conservation community, culminated in the book Solvent Gels for the Cleaning of Works of Art: The Residue Question (Getty Conservation Institute, 2004).
As a result of the project, the impact of gels cleaning systems on works of art is now much more clearly understood. The solvent gels book has become an important reference for selecting the best methods for cleaning artworks while minimizing risk. The project and the book have renewed interest in gels systems, and have also stimulated interest in their applicability to modern paintings. An important outcome of the project is the development of a methodology to assist conservators in preparing solvent gels for use on various surfaces. A decision tree was designed to simplify the procedure for developing an appropriate cleaning strategy; private conservator Chris Stavroudis further tested and revised the decision tree to create the Modular Cleaning Program (MCP), an online database tool available to conservators. To date, over four hundred registered users from around the world have accessed the database.
The Gels Cleaning Research Project satisfied basic goals of the Institute—to advance conservation practice by adding to the body of knowledge available to conservation professionals and by facilitating the use of more effective conservation tools.
The China Principles
Over the last two decades, China watchers have been awed by that nation's speed of development. Hand in hand with this development has been the rise of domestic tourism to historic sites, with dire and accelerating consequences for China's heritage. With much already lost to development, over-restoration, and compromised authenticity, what is the future of China's vast heritage of temples, palaces, gardens, archaeological sites, and grottoes?
On the positive side, the opening of China in the late 1970s allowed renewed engagement with the international cultural and scientific community—China ratified the World Heritage Convention in 1986, joined ICCROM (International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property), and plays an increasing role in ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites), forming its own chapter. China's State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH) has also welcomed partnerships with institutions such as the GCI, which began collaborative projects in China in 1989. This work ultimately led to the development of the Principles for the Conservation of Heritage Sites in China (the China Principles), a comprehensive set of national guidelines for the conservation and management of immovable cultural heritage. Partners in the development of the principles were SACH, the GCI, and the Australian Department of Environment and Heritage (DEH). SACH leadership recognized that an international perspective would benefit the development of the guidelines—hence the tripartite partnership. Three years in drafting, the principles were approved by SACH and issued by China ICOMOS in 2000.
In essence, the principles rest on the identification of a site's explicit values, primarily its historic, artistic, scientific, and social values. In addition, heritage management decisions and interventions should in no way degrade the site's values. These two concepts underpin the principles and are consonant with other countries' guidelines—for example, the Burra Charter of Australia.
The GCI is collaborating with Chinese site authorities at two World Heritage sites—the Mogao Grottoes and the Chengde Imperial Mountain Resort—to demonstrate the principles in planning, conservation, and management. In addition to undertaking these demonstration projects, the partners recognized that training a new generation of heritage professionals in the ethos of the China Principles and their application was essential. The GCI with the DEH and SACH recently completed a workshop designed to initiate a systematic program of national-level training courses in the principles.
The China Principles stress the integration of conservation and site management, previously viewed within China as separate activities. Their promulgation has begun the process of moving heritage conservation in China away from the purely scientific or technical approach that often leads to ill-considered decisions or to excessive restoration with a consequent loss of authenticity.
Given the size of China and given its vast and ancient cultural heritage, this project, in terms of potential impact, is perhaps the most ambitious undertaken by the GCI. The China Principles, a response to a crisis in heritage management, is now well rooted within the heritage system and acknowledged in China as a methodology of great flexibility and power.
The Royal Bas-reliefs of Abomey
Africa is a continent with a vast and diverse cultural heritage, as seen in its historic sites and living traditions. The Royal Palaces of Abomey, a World Heritage Site, constitute a noteworthy example of both. The city of Abomey, the capital of the historic kingdom of Dahomey, located in Benin, West Africa, is rich in the cultural traditions of building in earth and embellishing palaces and temples with wall paintings and bas-reliefs.
The polychrome earthen bas-reliefs of the ajalala (palace) of King Glélé, believed to date from the late nineteenth century, are among the last remaining original bas-reliefs at the Royal Palaces of Abomey. They constitute an important archive of the history of the Fon people, who, prior to French colonization, had no written language and recorded their history with images and oral tradition. Following their removal from the facade of the ajalala in 1988, the bas-reliefs showed damage and deterioration. Facing the loss of these bas-reliefs, the Benin Ministry of Culture and Communication asked the GCI—with its expertise in the conservation of earthen architecture and wall paintings—to assist them in saving this significant piece of Benin's cultural heritage. In 1992 the GCI and the ministry began a project to conserve fifty of the bas-reliefs.
Benin has been one of the leading countries in West Africa to embrace conservation and to train museum professionals to care for the country's cultural heritage; it was active in ICCROM's Preventive Conservation in Museums in Africa Initiative (PREMA) and is the only country in the region to establish a school for cultural heritage preservation. The GCI project provided an important opportunity to further train Beninois museum professionals in a specialized area of conservation, and to build capacity in conservation at a local and regional level.
The Abomey project included the study, documentation, conservation, and exhibition of the bas-reliefs, as well as training. At the end of the project in 1997, an international conference, "Past, Present, and Future of the Royal Palaces of Abomey" (organized with the Benin Department of Cultural Patrimony and ICCROM), aimed to raise the awareness of local and national authorities to the site's significance and to the importance of conservation and site management. Subsequently, the Council of Royal Families of Abomey, traditional caretakers of the Royal Palaces, became much more involved in the site.
Since 1997 the Beninois trained by the project have gone on to positions in the Department of Cultural Patrimony as decision makers for sites and museums in Benin. The methodology developed to conserve the ensemble of bas-reliefs serves as a model for other conservation projects in the region. Polychrome bas-reliefs on the ajalala of King Behanzin, also on the site of the Royal Palaces of Abomey, were conserved in situ by museum staff trained during the project, and a permanent exhibit of the conserved bas-reliefs from the ajalala of Glélé was installed in the museum.
The Abomey project enabled the GCI to help Benin build capacity, to advance the principles and practice of conservation in a place where conservation is an emerging interest, and to raise awareness of the significance of this unique World Heritage Site.
Like the field of conservation itself, conservation education is relatively young. In recent decades there has been an increase in the number of academic programs in conservation, as well as myriad short courses that deal with conservation topics. There has also been growing interest in the pedagogy of conservation—the aims and methods of teaching and learning. However, there are still few opportunities for conservation educators to meet for the sole purpose of discussing conservation education and how it relates to the field's changing needs.
The GCI, involved in conservation education and training since its inception, launched the Directors' Retreats program in 2002 as a way to promote strategic thinking and collaboration among conservation educators within the United States and internationally, convening meetings that bring together people with common goals to explore ideas vital to conservation education development.
The retreats, an ongoing series of meetings for directors of academic programs and professional organizations involved in conservation education, provide opportunities for participants to meet and discuss, in an informal environment, issues they consider most urgent to conservation education. For several days, in quiet and congenial settings away from the demands of work life, participants are able to exchange ideas and information and to consider avenues of cooperation that can benefit their own programs and the field at large.
To date, the GCI has held three retreats, each in partnership with another organization. The first—held in 2002 with the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC)—concentrated on the need for continuing education opportunities for North American conservators. The discussions during this retreat were helpful in the formation of AIC's successful continuing education program.
The second retreat was coorganized in 2004 with the Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation, University of Melbourne. In Melbourne, discussions focused on conservation education needs in the Asia-Pacific region and included participants from thirteen Asia-Pacific countries. By sharing their own experiences, participants took the first step toward identifying regional needs and resources for conservation education.
The most recent retreat—a partnership of the GCI, the AIC, and the Association of North American Graduate Programs in Conservation—examined Web-based teaching and learning for conservation. Held in May 2006 in Austin, Texas, the retreat brought together nineteen educators from North America, Europe, and Australia to consider the potential of Web technology for conservation education. Since several of the institutions represented in the retreat had experience using the Web for classroom and distance education, participants could reflect on these experiences and consider how they might shape their own work. Participants also looked at ways to take advantage of the growing use of educational technology and the Web for achieving conservation teaching and learning goals. Specific ideas for collaborative activities were identified during formal and informal gatherings, including the possibility of cooperative research on blended learning (i.e., combining classroom-based and online teaching), an online resource for conservation education, and online conservation science tutorials.
By providing educators with occasions to meet for focused thinking and discussion, the retreats contribute to achieving an important GCI goal—strengthening the infrastructure for conservation education.
Museums Emergency Program Education Initiative
Natural and human-made emergencies are as inevitable in the cultural field as they are in every other aspect of life. Recent disasters—hurricanes in the United States, tsunamis in Southeast Asia, and military conflicts in many regions—have demonstrated the vulnerabilities of cultural resources. Unfortunately, most of the world's museums do not understand the range of risks that can affect them and are unprepared to guard against the devastating losses that can occur from even a relatively small emergency.
Acquiring knowledge and skill—particularly in such a complex and interdisciplinary area as emergency management—is a long-term process. While a short course can offer basic information, effective emergency management entails changes in institutional policy and practice. This requires moving beyond short courses to a more sustained effort at capacity building.
The GCI—long active in promoting emergency preparedness in the cultural field—has sought to develop education models that appropriately address the learning needs of professionals. Most recently, through an innovative teaching approach, the GCI has focused on museum personnel training in emergency preparedness. Over the past year and a half, the Institute has partnered with ICOM (International Council of Museums) and ICCROM on an initiative that is part of ICOM's Museums Emergency Program (MEP), a multiyear project to assist museum and other heritage professionals to prepare for and respond to natural and human-made threats. The GCI and its project partners developed a three-phase pilot course, Teamwork for Integrated Emergency Management, which combined a classroom-based workshop with a seven-month period of practical work. Teams from eight national museums and two museum studies programs in Asia attended the workshop phase of the course in Bangkok in August 2005. The workshop was followed by the second phase, which ran from September 2005 through March 2006. Over seven months of practical work, each team, via e-mail, regularly reported its progress to course mentors who commented on the achievements and, if necessary, provided advice or information. In addition, there was a course Web site that contained teaching materials along with links to emergency management Web sites and course contact information. During this period, course participants began implementing practical changes with colleagues at their institutions. The mentoring phase also helped to reinforce the bonds among the institutions and to provide the basis for a regional network.
The third and final phase of the course was a meeting in Seoul, in June 2006, to review the achievements of each museum team. The teams discussed the substantial progress they had made over the course of the year: undertaking risk assessments, re-examining or revising institutional emergency plans, reviewing security protocols, and conducting staff drills and training.
The learning model used in Teamwork for Integrated Emergency Management—traditional classroom-based workshop and extended mentored practice—may be adapted to other GCI training efforts. Facilitated by new communication technologies, it extends the classroom into the workplace and aids the growth of a sense of community among practitioners, essential to the development of the field.
The following GCI staff contributed to this article:
James Druzik, senior project specialist
Herant Khanjian, assistant scientist
Neville Agnew, principal project specialist
Martha Demas, senior project specialist
Leslie Rainer, senior project specialist
Francesca Piqué, former GCI project specialist
Kathleen Dardes, senior project specialist