While conservators in a museum setting work towards exhibitions that are scheduled years in advance, private practitioners often have to work at a much faster clip, while still upholding the required methodological and ethical standards. “More and more, our schedule is governed by auction dates and major art fairs around the world,” notes Jason Marquis, the studio manager at Alvarez Fine Arts Services, a New York-based private paper conservation studio founded by Antonio Alvarez and Scott Krawitz in 1984. With Art Basel less than two months away, the Alvarez team, which includes four full-time conservators, is gearing up for a busy season.
On the plus side, those intensive turnaround times—along with a diverse client base—make for a rich variety of projects. In addition to taking on work for smaller museums that do not have an in-house paper conservation staff, the Alvarez studio primarily does business with auction houses, art dealers, and collectors, who are looking to treat artworks before they are exhibited or sold. Meanwhile, some projects are brought to them because of their personal, rather than cultural, importance—like letters and diplomas. “But we don’t think about value when things come through here,” explains Marquis. “We treat everything as though it’s priceless, whether it’s a sentimental drawing from someone’s grandmother, or a million-dollar work.”
“According to the collector,” says Skura, “the boxes are worth even more than the objects.” And while the client was hoping to have the labels removed, cleaned, then put back on, Skura is instead recommending a less aggressive approach that will leave the labels as is, and extract the dirt with dry sponges. “What is technically possible isn’t always ethically sound,” says Marquis—a magic phrase he often has to use with clients. “It’s like going to the doctor and asking for a treatment, and the doctor has to explain why it’s not such a good idea,” adds Skura.
I collect old medicines, and have many amazingly beautiful boxes full of various herbs, and yes, the boxes are so very important. The artwork, the information, there’s so much richness and history there. I had never even thought about having these restored. The full article is excellent, and there’s more to see at The Creators Project.