Lopez Museum offers art conservation services

Art conservation arrives in Manila via the Lopez Musuem, and art collectors should check out what it has to offer.
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By Walter Ang
June-August 2008 issue
Metro Home and Entertaining

Furry mice are suspended in mid-crawl across three wooden contraptions with pulleys. No need to worry, the mice are actually just stuffed toys. This humorous installation piece speaks volumes about the vulnerability of art, or anything made by man, for that matter, against the elements. And it is an apt introduction to the Lopez Memorial Musuem's exhibit tackling the very serious matter of art conservation.

"The Sum of Its Parts" features pieces from the museum's collection which have undergone or are slated to undergo conservation. To underscore how fragile art can be, the exhibit shows how Juan Luna's "A group of men pushing the wall" (pencil on papel de marquilla) has been reduced to what looks like pencil striations on a yellowed piece of paper. Fortunately, it has gone through the musuem's conservation laboratory and has been declared "stable."

Husband-and-wife curating team of Claro and Eileen Ramirez aims to share the role of and the processes involved in conservation. "Preserving and promoting cultural heritage is mostly behind the scenes, few museum audiences understand the work involved," Claro says.

Through the works of Felix Resurrecion Hidalgo, Pacita Abad, Nena Saguil and Juvenal Sanso among others, the exhibit creates awareness of the thought and care in the maintenance that must go hand-in-hand with owning and appreciating works of art.

Claudio Bravo's "Portrait of Doña Pacita Moreno," created with pencil and charcoal on paper, is a shining example of the fruits of the museum's conservation labor. One could never have imagined it in its previous state: filled with stains like skin ravaged with disease.

The woman responsible for breathing life back into this work is Maita Reyes, a chemist who specializes in the "security, safety and survival" of art works. Having trained at the Facultedad De Bellas Artes of the Unibersidad Complutense de Madrid and International Center of Conservation, she is the museum's consultant for art conservation.

"The goal of conservation is really to stabilize works of art," Maita says. "Our work involves preventing and arresting deterioration caused by natural and man-made disasters."

While the museum has its array of climate-control systems, parabolic lighting (to prevent direct light shining on the art work), mylar wrapped frames and refracted ultraviolet glass covering, homeowners need not break the bank to protect their treasures as Maita has several tips that are not difficult to comply with.

She cautions that the number one enemy of paintings and prints is light. "Sunlight and strong lighting will fade paintings and once it's faded, it's irreversible," she says. One method of preventive care is to apply a protective coating. "An ultra-violet stable varnish will do."

Molds also pose a serious problem but is easily prevented by ensuring that air circulates in the area where the painting or print is hung. "Stagnant air will allow mold spores to settle and grow," she says. "Allow for some space behind the painting."

Another problem area is usually the frame and backing. Not only does the lignant in wood produce acid, "wood is food for molds!" says Maita emphatically. She appreciates that completely acid free backings or frames can be a bit expensive, so she has no problems with using materials with "reduced or minimal acid." "But these materials can be treated to minimize the effects of acidity."

She even offers a do-it-yourself quick-fix. "Mixing calcium carbonate tablets (which can be bought at any drugstore over-the-counter) with water can create a solution that can be sprayed onto the materials to control or neutralize the acid."

It's best to involve the experts from the moment of acquiring the art work. "Not many people know this, but to attend to the needs of private owners and collectors, the museum provides conservation and restoration services," she says. Of course, an ounce of "preventive conservation" is always better than a pound of laborious, expensive, time-consuming cure.

For details, call the Lopez Memorial Museum at 631-2417 or email pezseum@skyinet.net.