Materials Issues in Art and Archaeology

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At the Materials Research Society's annual spring meeting, held this year in San Francisco, the Getty Conservation Institute and the Smithsonian Institution sponsored their third symposium on "Materials Issues in Art and Archaeology." The symposium, which ran from April 27 to May 1, 1992, was organized by James Druzik of the GCI, Pamela Vandiver of the Conservation Analytical Laboratory of the Smithsonian Institution, George Wheeler of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Ian Freestone of the British Museum.

Nearly 100 papers and posters were presented during the five-day symposium. Topics covered in the sessions included: treatment, deterioration, and structures in architectural materials; techniques for technical analysis; behavior of materials used by the artist, artisan, and conservator; and technical analysis of art and archaeological materials, metallurgy, glass, and ceramics.

In light of recent armed conflicts around the world, there was also a session on the protection and loss of cultural heritage during warfare. The session was addressed by Miguel Angel Corzo, Director of the GCI (see below).

The proceedings of the symposium will be published by the Materials Research Society.

Speaking to a session of the Materials Research Society's third symposium on "Materials Issues in Art and Archaeology," Miguel Angel Corzo, Director of the GCI, explored ways of strengthening the 1954 UNESCO Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. In explaining the necessity for action, he told symposium participants: "It is not our business at this meeting to comment on the means by which the ultimate war—the war against itself—may be won. But it is valid to ask why we should spend time and resources to safeguard art and culture in periods of armed conflict when precious human lives are at risk. Let me state that my personal and primary concern as a human being is the survival of human life. Our task as conservation professionals, on the other hand, is the protection of the human spirit as it manifests itself in the tangible, artistic products of culture. To the devil's advocate who would mischeviously quote Oscar Wilde that art is useless, I would reply that useless it is indeed—if we were to judge the matter from a purely utilitarian perspective. Art is in fact as useless to society as the spirit is to the body. The human species as a biological organism can survive without art and culture but the definition of what it is to be human cannot. Culture is to human civilization as trees are to the environment. That is the justification for our preoccupation with its survival."