Established in the 1960s, the Conservation Center at the Asian Art Museum has grown from a single restorer to three full-time and additional part-time conservators as well as support staff. The museum’s move from Golden Gate Park to its Civic Center location in 2003 allowed the center to expand into a custom-built laboratory space, which includes a fumigation/isolation room and analytical capabilities such as x-radiography, x-ray fluorescence and ultraviolet light microscopy.
Work at the center includes treatment and preventive care, scholarly research on materials and techniques, and development of new conservation methods to address the changing needs of a growing museum. Projects may focus on an individual object, using instrumental analysis and advanced imaging techniques to assess condition, authenticity and craftsmanship. Such examinations help formulate decisions on how and when an art object should be repaired or restored. Larger surveys and research projects are also undertaken to determine art trends over time and geographic distribution of art techniques.
The center also shares the mandate of the museum to create a deeper level of understanding of Asian cultures by our visitors. Through cooperative exchanges, joint projects and public outreach, art conservation can provide a unique window into shared traditions of art preservation, restoration and fabrication.
Interdisciplinary collaboration is essential in conservation research. Conservation staff at the Asian Art Museum work closely with curators, scientists and outside experts to advance the understanding of artworks, and to learn more about the cultures that produced these unique treasures. Conservators often study archaeology, art history, archives and traditional craftsmanship to better understand a work of art. The projects described below demonstrate the scope of subjects and methods that may be involved. Within the department are a number of specialist conservation disciplines, including paper and paintings, textiles and three-dimensional objects. Although each area requires detailed knowledge of materials and historic production methods of certain art media, conservators work together and in collaboration with curators, scientists and registrars to care for the collection as a whole.