Blanton exhibit displays the process of art conservation and restoration

Christine Ayala

The Blanton Museum of Art’s most recent exhibit is highlighting the importance of art conservation and restoration by offering a window into the process.

Blanton spokesperson Samantha Youngblood said the exhibit gives the Blanton an opportunity to restore items in its permanent Suida-Manning Collection that need maintenance and show restoration that usually isn’t seen by the public.

“The exhibition is all about the role of conservation in caring for the collection,” Youngblood said. “When you come to the gallery you’ll be able to see not just the before-and-after image and painting — you’ll also see a video and other images along the treatment process.”

The exhibit, titled “Restoration and Revelation: Conserving the Suida-Manning Collection,” contains five pieces from the Suida-Manning Collection, which includes 250 paintings, 400 drawings and 20 sculptures from the Renaissance and Baroque eras.

Curator of exhibitions Colette Crossman said the centerpiece of the exhibit is a painting titled “The Death of Rachel,” by Antonio Carneo, thought to have been created during the 1660s. Crossman said the piece inspired the exhibition because of the restoration it required.

“It actually needed very extensive work,” Crossman said. ‘When the painting came to the Blanton, at some point in its history it had been taken off its structure, been folded and rolled. That had caused creases in the canvas and paint lost. There were also a lot of cracks in the surface painting.”

Crossman said before becoming a part of the Blanton’s collection, the painting went through an uncompleted restoration in the mid-20th century. The recent conservation process for the painting included examination of the painting, removing the previous restoration attempt and evening the cracked paint.

Crossman said “The Death of Rachel” was restored for the Blanton by conservators at the National Gallery of Canada, who spent more than 500 hours working to restore what the original painting might have looked like.

“The real bulk of the labor was ‘in-painting,’ where you’re basically filling in the gaps within the paint that are missing,” Crossman said. “In some areas there was some paint loss that they had to hypothesize what the original composition would’ve actually looked like.”

Blanton contract conservator Mark van Gelder said the goal for conserving art is to preserve what the original piece was meant to express. Although he didn’t work on this exhibit, he said deciding where work is needed can be difficult to determine when restoring art.

“You’re trying to ensure the long-term stability of the artwork and trying to present it for the public as honestly and accurately as you can, given the fact that it may not be in the same condition from when it was originally made,” van Gelder said.

The exhibit will be on display at the Blanton until May 5, 2013.