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Asked and Answered: A Synopsis of Tales in Conservation: The Application of Science to Asian Art with answers to submitted questions (Part Three)

January 15, 2021

Korean gilt copper “medicine” Buddha, late 7th-early 8th century

We are pleased to share the third installment of additional material related to our recent webinar on art conservation which featured scholarly contributions from two leading Asian Art conservators, Leslie Gat, (Art Conservation Group) and John Twilley (Art Conservation Scientist), along with AWNY members Mary Ann Rogers (Kaikodo LLC), and Thomas Murray (Thomas Murray Asian and Tribal Art).

Part three begins with a summary from John Twilley, followed by answers to questions posed by attendees during and after the event.

"Scientific analysis applied to artworks serves several purposes, chiefly to guide conservation treatment and to inform art history on the physical aspects of the making of art. Cleaning and corrosion removal are operations that frequently entail irreversible changes to an artwork and therefore often require testing to determine their feasibility and impact on the object. As in medicine, the first priority of conservation should be to do no harm. Historically, many attempts to clean and “restore” artworks have been marred by misunderstandings about their materials and original appearance, or by the prioritization, in the imaginations of collectors, of certain characteristics over others that were essential to the artist’s original work. The example of the cleaning and recarving of Greek and Roman sculptures that occurred in the 18th and 19th centuries, during which polychrome decoration was often lost, provides a cautionary tale for how we should approach Asian art. The Victorian preference for white marble surfaces as aesthetically desirable, coupled with an antihistorical denigration of the role of color in the ancient world, allowed much to be lost forever.

Chinese sculptures in wood and stone are widely appreciated to have been decorated with polychrome. What is less often understood is that they were subject to multiple devotional redecorations during their existence in worship and that common practice was to cover the earlier layers rather than remove them. Unfortunately, Chinese sculptures with damaged polychrome decoration have sometimes been stripped of paint remnants in a quest to elevate sculptural form and uniformity. When they have not been removed, scientific study of these successive paint layers allows us to understand the chronology of costume styles preserved there and to date them.

Even less recognized are metal sculptures that were decorated with painted polychromy augmenting gilt bronze. Two sculptures dating to the 8th century CE illustrate the essential role of scientific testing in recognizing the presence of polychrome and preventing its destruction. Testing of a corrosion-covered, late Sui or early Tang bronze Avalokiteshvara revealed painted linework and shading over gold that have become inextricably bound with corrosion products from the bronze and incrusting minerals acquired from the environment. Testing of a Korean gilt copper “medicine” Buddha, which radiocarbon dating confirmed to be of the late 7th to early 8th century, reveals decoration with opaque aquamarine glass and rock crystal “jewels,” the latter of which derived their color from painted settings, contrasting with painted flowers. The peculiar yellow hair of this Buddha, which convention dictates should be blue or black, represents the first discovery of the iron phosphate mineral vivianite in Asian polychrome decoration. Rare encounters with this pigment in Dutch painting of the 17th century, including in the work of Rembrandt’s first pupil, Gerrit Dou, inform this discovery and explain the contradictory color. Vivianite, known as blue ochre, is unstable. It transforms to the yellow color seen today in the Buddha’s hair by an irreversible oxidation of the iron. Recognizing this same formerly blue pigment in the painted centers of gold-petalled flowers garlanding the Buddha’s base allows us to visualize the original color scheme. It included orange-backed rock crystal flowers alternating with blue painted flowers around the base, and turquoise glass flowers alternating with orange-painted rock crystals in the mandorla.

Today, these decorations are permeated by corrosion products and mineral deposits that variously contrast with, or blend in among the original colors of the work. Survival has been selective, with discolored successors of some of the artist’s original colors, altered by the environment, alongside intact neighbors. While part of the corrosion might be removable, the majority of these transformations are irreversible. Scientific examination allows the original appearance to be appreciated for what remains and predicts that some aspects of the original appearance cannot be recovered through any form of treatment. It shows that the stripping of corrosion, once conceived as the appropriate means of revealing a gilded surface, instead would have misrepresented these two works. A successful treatment of that kind would expose them in a way that their makers never intended them to be seen and skew modern understanding of the art of the period. Such cases pose a challenge to all concerned but they also present opportunities—to collectors, in their stewardship of the art, to foster scholarship and high standards of care; to the conservator, to exercise restraint and to consider the potential for new discoveries; and to the scientist, to not merely record what remains but to interpret its origins and reconstruct the artist’s methodology.”

Details of this work may be found in the following publication:
John Twilley, Polychrome Decorations on Far Eastern Gilt Bronze Sculpture of the Eighth Century, In Scientific Research on the Sculptural Arts of Asia, Proceedings of the Third Forbes Symposium at the Freer Gallery of Art, J.A. Douglas, P. Jett, and J. Winter, eds., Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, 2007, pp.174-187

Bronze Avalokitesvara with painted details, late Sui-early Tang dynasty (8th century)

Some questions and answers about metal conservation:

1. Can the corrosion be removed to allow the original gilding to show? If not, why not?

For these two cases, we now know that the original decoration was not a uniform layer of gilding. It involved paints applied atop the gilding to contrast with it. The corrosion now permeates the paint. Removing the corrosion would result in removing the paint to give a stripped-down gold surface that was never intended to exist alone. From a practical standpoint, corrosion has undercut some of the gilding so that the gilding now adheres to the corrosion on top better than it does to the original surface below, from which it may easily be lost. As the photo detail of the face of the Avalokiteshvara showed, removing the external corrosion leads to in an uneven result with dull, copper-colored areas alongside bright gilding and remnants of the paint.

2. I collect early (Momoyama Period) steel Japanese tsuba (sword guards). Often, these objects present with varying degrees of rust. Should ALL of this rust be removed?

Rust that is orange in color is not necessarily active, though it may be. Iron rust is often exacerbated by chloride salts that cause even more trouble for iron than they do for bronze. In severe cases, droplets or weeping trails of orange liquid may develop because the iron chlorides have such high affinity for moisture in the air. This can cause the problem to migrate, damaging new areas. Because the chloride is never consumed, it goes on stimulating further corrosion. The chlorides responsible for this need to be removed as thoroughly as possible because suppressing this kind of corrosion by maintaining a sufficiently dry environment is almost impossible, even in a museum case. A good solution usually involves a combination of removal of accessible chlorides, treatment by a corrosion inhibitor, and housing in a dehumidified enclosure. The latter implies a continuing need for maintenance.

3. How is “proper condition” of conserved objects determined, exactly? Who decides?

The decision needs to be based on a dialog between the art historian/archeologist/historian, the conservator, and owner, but a dialog that is informed as fully as possible about the ramifications of treatment that may impact materials associated with the item of primary interest. For example, an understanding is taking hold in paleontology that "preparing" skeletons often results in the erasure of vast amounts of information in the form of fossil remnants of soft tissue, feathers, hair, etc. that were not formerly recognized to have survived. X-ray tomography systems are now coming on-line that are capable of discerning things as minor as an insect fossil inside a block of stone. So paleontology is looking toward a future in which physical divestment of fossils will be greatly reduced or reserved for duplicate specimens. In archaeological artifacts, we routinely see equivalent cases of the preservation of cloth, leather, pigments, lacquer coatings, and other associated goods in the form of corrosion pseudomorphs (early-stage fossils, if you will) that can expand an understanding of the artifact if they are not discarded in a quest to uncover something. If we are to avoid our irreversible actions being regretted by those who come after, as we regret the recarving of Greek and Roman sculpture in the 18th century, we need to minimize the impact of our imperfect understanding.

This post is part three of a three-part essay about our Webinar, Tales in Conservation. To read part one Click here. To read part two Click here.

Watch an excerpt from the Tales in Conservation webinar:

Asia Week New York's next webinar: Tales in Connoisseurship: Appreciating Indian Painting

January 14, 2021

A party of hunters returning to camp (detail), Leaf from the British Library-Chester Beatty Library Akbarnama, Mughal India, 1603-04, 9 by 5 in., 22.9 by 12.7 cm., painting; 12 ¼ by 8 ½ in., 31 by 21.5 cm. folio, Image courtesy of Oliver Forge & Brendan Lynch Ltd.

Asia Week New York is pleased to host a panel discussion, Tales in Connoisseurship: Appreciating Indian Painting, on Thursday, January 28 at 5pm EST.

What is the most important ingredient in appreciating art? Join our renowned panel of experts: Brendan Lynch, art dealer, Marika Sardar PhD, Curator, The Aga Khan Museum and Gursharan Sidhu, PhD as they reveal their personal journeys of connoisseurship in the rich and wonderful world of Indian Paintings. The conversation will be moderated by Anu Ghosh-Mazumdar, Head of Department, Indian & Southeast Asian Art, Sotheby’s.

Register here:

https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_ksNoWmVSRzagAi5UYrouCg

Ralph M. Chait Galleries, Inc. at the Winter Show 2021
January 22-31
Online only

January 12, 2021

A pair of wonderful unglazed pottery Figures of Warriors, Northern Wei dynasty, ca 5th/ 6th century; Height: 14.25 inches (36 cm).

The Ralph M. Chait Galleries will be exhibiting a variety of fine Chinese porcelain, pottery, and works of art. The porcelain objects consist of mainly Kangxi period famille verte, including a very rare pair of large famille verte porcelain beaker vases, the only similar piece being a blue and white example in the Leverhulme Collection, and smaller famille verte pieces in the historic Dresden and Morgan collections.

They will also show a very rare doucai glazed deep plate with the Eight Horse of Weng Mu decoration. Pottery will include a superb Tricorn Mythical Beast, Western Jin dynasty (3rd century), and a wonderful pair of Wei dynasty pottery Guardians with amusing individual facial expressions.

On the export side, they will exhibit two very important Chinese export reverse glass paintings: one a Shakespearean subject from The Merry Wives of Windsor and a religious themed masterpiece: The Triumph of Virtue. Both were included in Carl Crossman's seminal book on The China Trade (1972).

Joan B Mirviss LTD at the Winter Show 2021
January 22-31
Online only

January 12, 2021

Kondo Takahiro (b. 1958) "Black and White Drop," 2005-06
Glazed porcelain with silver mist, 31 1/4 x 6 1/2 x 4 1/2 in.

To mark their fortieth year participating in The Winter Show, and its first ever online-only edition, Joan B Mirviss LTD presents Masterworks of Modern Japanese Porcelain alongside a selection of woodblock prints by celebrated 19th century artists such as Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) and Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858). A pair of small two-fold screens by Matsumara Keibun (1779-1843) depicting a spring landscape is also on display.

The survey of modern Japanese porcelain includes a fine white porcelain vessel by the great Tomimoto Kenkichi (1886-1963) who marked the turn from traditional modes of clay creation toward the approaches that define the modern era. His profound influence lives on in the innovative forms and techniques of Kondo Takahiro (b. 1958) and in the distinctive gold and silver patterned decorations of Maeda Masahiro (b. 1948).

Works by the groundbreaking artists of the Sodeisha ceramic movement Suzuki Osamu (1926-2001) and Yamada Hikaru (1923-2001) and an emergent group of younger artists exploring porcelain's possibilities in sculptural form such as Kino Satoshi (b. 1987) and Fukumoto Fuku (b. 1973) are also included.

Asked and Answered: Answers to submitted questions at Tales of Conservation: The Application of Science to Asian Art (Part Two)

January 7, 2021

Indian Trade Cloth with "High Baroque" motif, India, found in Indonesia, cotton; mordant red on an indigo ground, likely 18th Century, 90 x 44 in / 229 x 112 cm, Thomas Murray

We are pleased to share the second installment of additional material related to our recent webinar on art conservation which featured scholarly contributions from two leading Asian Art conservators, Leslie Gat, (Art Conservation Group) and John Twilley (Art Conservation Scientist), along with AWNY members Mary Ann Rogers (Kaikodo LLC), and Thomas Murray (Thomas Murray Asian and Tribal Art).

Some questions and answers relating to conservation in general and to textiles in particular:

1. How do you decide on the degree of restoration to perform?

The basic guide for visual integration of damages is that when you are close to the object, you should be able to tell the difference between original and restorative materials. If not visible to the naked eye, it should be visible under a raking light or a UV light source. It is a balancing act. The goal is to make the piece visually appealing without burying the authenticity of the piece under cosmetics.

Your question raises two issues for conservators beyond the overall esthetics of the piece - the materials used and extent of restoration.

The guiding principle for conservators is that, as much as possible, all materials used during treatments must be reversible. Generally, a fill material would be one different from the original. On a Mayan Jar, a reversible synthetic putty or plaster or a vinyl spackle or a combination of these might be used. The material itself would be pigmented or the fill surface would be inpainted once it was dried and shaped. All restorative materials would be in the areas of damage only, extant original surfaces would be left untouched.

The extent of loss compensation for a stable object is a subjective decision, often guided by styles of the present day and can be very different for objects from different periods and cultures. There are countless examples of work done only 20 years ago that would be approached in very differently now. And the same will be true in 20 years for the work we do now, which is one of the reasons why it is so important for us to make what we do reversible.

At the present time, best practices in the field hold that the goal is to make an object’s original intent legible and to do so in a manner that minimizes the visual effect of the both the loss and restorative intervention without doing irreversible damage to the object.

Indian Trade Cloth with Thai Temple motif
Indian Trade Cloth with "Thai Temple" motif (detail), Coramandel Coast, found in Indonesia, cotton; hand painted mordant red and indigo, 17th Century, 35 x 49 in / 89 x 124 cm, Thomas Murray

2. Do you have any advice about storage packing material for antique wood, lacquer and textiles? Is bubble wrap outside of acid free paper to be avoided?

The climate – relative humidity (RH%) and temperature - is the most important consideration for storage.

Wood and lacquer are usually stored in 50 – 55% relative humidity. Textiles should be ok in 50±5%. Note that these are generalized recommendations and objects can have individual idiosyncrasies that would need to be taken into consideration.

As a general rule, fine art and cultural materials/objects should not be stored in any type of plastic wrap. A sealed environment should only be used if RH% controls appropriate to the materials can be maintained within the sealed package.

Archival boxes with unbuffered acid free tissue are good basic materials for most storage needs. It is often helpful to attach a photograph of the enclosed materials for later reference without having to open the box.

3. Is it safe to freeze all kinds of textiles for pest control?

Deep freezing is a widely practiced pest eradication approach in museums and involves placing individually packaged objects in a deep freezer at -20˚ to 30˚C (depending on which studies you read) for about 24 hours. The object is then removed, allowed to thaw and then refrozen at the same temperatures for another week or two (studies vary). Since most household freezers do not reach those temperatures, it is not really possible to guarantee that a household treatment will be successful, unless of course, the collector has a deep freezer.

For collectors with moth infestations, I would recommend contacting a conservator in their area. When there is one moth infestation, it is possible that other objects are also infested and object handling varies depending on a pieces age and fragility.

The AIC lists some conservators in private practice on their website:
https://www.culturalheritage.org/about-conservation/find-a-conservator

One of the attendees, Vera Indenbaum, provided a link to her blog on Textile Care Recommendations, where a number of questions raised are answered here.

This post is part one of a three part essay about our Webinar, Tales in Conservation. To read part one Click here.

Watch an excerpt from the Tales in Conservation webinar:

Wintertide, an online exhibition at Kaikodo

January 6, 2021

Lan Ying 藍瑛, (1585-1652 or later), Fisherman on Snowy River, after Wang Wei, 1638
Hanging scroll, ink and color on silk, 209.5 x 50.5 cm. (82 1/2 x 19 7/8 in.)

For the Winter 2020-2021, Kaikodo has launched an online exhibition entitled "Wintertide." Howard and Mary Ann Rogers describe it this way:

The seasons during this year of the pandemic seem, for us, to have lost their identity. Spring, summer and fall crawled by without their usual impact, or did they race by? Time itself has been hard to grasp, measure, corral, and then it is gone. Our minds and feelings have been, and are, so otherwise occupied that the depths and nuances of the seasons, their gifts and challenges, have evaded us. Wintertide is our attempt to awaken ourselves to the magic of the current season. Our former exhibitions celebrating winter—Let it Snow and The Silent Season—were gatherings of Chinese and Japanese paintings produced under the spell of a season that spans an old year and a new, landscape on the one hand caught in a straitjacket of ice and snow, as pine and bamboo struggle to be seen and plum blossoms open to the future. In the present exhibition paintings inspired by biting winds, sleet and snow are joined by other works of art that suggest through their color a season cloaked in white. The final work in the exhibition is a painting by Suda Kokuta, a portrait of the Japanese character ichi or, in Chinese, yi, “one,” the white plain, a clean slate, representing for us here the first month of a New Year, where our hopes for better times reside.

New Date for Upcoming Event at Japan Society From Here to There

January 5, 2021

Hanako Murakami Untitled (AGFA Isochrom #1), 2020, Image courtesy of the artist, © Hanako Murakami.

Dialogue: Hanako Murakami x Simon Baker
Thursday, January 14, 6-7 PM EST

Admission: $10 General Public / $8 Japan Society Members

This conversation traverses the processes, histories, and strategies of influence from the field of film and photography, exploring how artist Hanako Murakami adapts these techniques in her work. With Simon Baker, Director of Maison Européenne de la Photographie.

Read more about From Here to There

Wishing you Health, Happiness and TRAVEL in the New Year

January 1, 2021

photo: Michael Yamashita

The Asia Week New York Association is pleased to announce that Songtsam Hotels, Resorts & Tours, the award-winning luxury boutique hotel and travel group, is Presenting Sponsor for a second year. Located in the Chinese provinces of Tibet and Yunnan, the twelve properties consist of four Linka resort hotels and eight lodges.

About the Songtsam Group

Founded by Baima Duoji, in 2000, the Songtsam Group, on the Conde Nast Traveler Gold List in 2019, is the only collection of luxury Tibetan-style retreats found across the Tibetan Plateau that offers guests sophisticated elegance, refined design, modern amenities, and unobtrusive service in places of natural beauty and cultural interest. Baima Duoji's aim is for guests to be inspired by the ethnic groups and cultures of the region, and most importantly to understand how the local people pursue and understand happiness.

With his long-standing interest in Chinese, Himalayan, and Southeast Asian art, Mr. Baima started collecting art long before he established his first hotel, Songtsam Lodge Shangri-La, which is located next to the famous Songzanlin Monastery in Shangri-La. Many of the properties across the Tibetan plateau are decorated with Mr. Baima’s personal collection, with each hotel acting as a private art museum. Songtsam aims to share the beauty of humanity’s imagination and creativity with people from all over the world.

By combining stays at different hotels and lodges, Songtsam Tours are designed for intrepid travellers to discover the region’s diverse culture, rich biodiversity, incredible scenic landscapes, and unique living heritage.

Currently they offer two signature routes: the Songtsam Shangri-La Circuit, which explores the "Three Parallel Rivers" area (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) of Yunnan, and the Songtsam Yunnan to Tibet Tea Horse Road Expedition leading from the center of the Three Parallel Rivers area across the Tibetan Plateau and allowing visitors to experience these magical lands in unprecedented comfort.

Songtsam has been exploring and preserving the essence of Tibetan culture, all the while maintaining a commitment to supporting economic development, local communities, environmental conservation, and sustainability within Tibet and Yunnan. For more information, visit www.songtsam.com/en.

Kyushu University & Yale University Organize Five Day International Symposium Repositioning Japan in the First Global Age (1500-1700)

December 31, 2020

Arrival of the Europeans, folding screen, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

This international symposium explores Japan’s role in the “First Global Age” through a comprehensive and interdisciplinary investigation of its cultural, material, and intellectual production from about 1500 to 1700. The thematic focus lies on transcultural exchange and its related processes, such as shifting taxonomies and iconographies; translation, interpretation, and appropriation; re-evaluation and re-interpretation; and the construction of social biographies of moving objects.

A key goal is to advance the discussion beyond prevalent yet limiting models such as, for instance, a narrowly conceived, bilateral exchange between Iberia and Japan. Instead, this symposium aims to complicate and deepen our understanding of the complex amalgam of actors and trajectories of exchange by exploring the pre-existing cultural, political, and economic spaces of an “East Asian Mediterranean;” transfer routes via South and South-East Asia as well as the Americas; diasporas and hybrid communities; continuities, ruptures, and innovations in the conceptualization of self and other; and processes of mapping, labeling, and appropriation.

Researchers from top institutions around the world and from a wide disciplinary range will convene to bridge the classical humanities (history, art history, literature, religious studies, intellectual history) and history of science (astronomy, cartography). The aim is to find a balance between established and emerging scholars as well as between the academic cultures of Japan, Europe, and the Americas.

This symposium is co-organized and co-funded by Kyushu University’s Faculty of Humanities and Yale University’s Council of East Asian Studies.

  • Sessions on five event days: February 6th, 9th, 11th, 16th, and 18th, 2021 (all dates are in Japanese Time).
  • Information about pre-registration and participation via Zoom will be distributed around mid-January.
  • In the case of more than 500 pre-registrations, participants from academic institutions will be privileged.
  • Contact: Prof. Dr. Anton Schweizer schweizer@lit.kyushu-u.ac.jp

Zoom Webinar sponsored by the Japanese Art Society of America (JASA)

December 30, 2020

The Unfathomable Art of Sesson

Tuesday, January 12, 2021 5:00 PM EST

A lecture by Professor Yukio Lippit, Jeffrey T. Chambers and Andrea Okamura Professor of the History of Art and Architecture, Harvard University on the life and work of the monk-painter Sesson Shūkei (ca.1492-1577).

Advance registration is required. Click here to register for the Zoom event: January 12 Zoom Webinar.

Edit: The webinar took place January 12th. Video of the webinar is available here:

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