Getty Consercation Institute Celebrates 30 Years

The Art Newspaper ran an interesting article on the impact the Getty Conservation Institute has had on the art world over the past 30 years. The article states the mission of the GCI is is to advance conservation practice in the visual arts, including objects, collections, architecture and sites. The article mentions how the GCI can adapt to changes in techniques as well as having the capacity to develop new conservation techniques.

The Art Newspaper reports
The Getty: 30 years of changing the world

From Tutankhamun to Disney cartoons, the conservation institute continues to revolutionise conservation practice from its Los Angeles base

People normally associate the Getty with its large collection of antiquities and Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, its fine paintings collection—mostly Old Masters rounded out with key later pictures such as Van Gogh’s Irises (1889)—and its substantial holdings of decorative art objects. Absent fr om this list are Modern and contemporary works of art. Considering this, one may be surprised to learn that the Los Angeles-based Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) is making great strides in the study of the materials and techniques used by Modern and contemporary artists. So why is the GCI investing significant resources in this area? Because the research will benefit a large number of institutions—and, rather significantly, because the GCI can.

The mission of the institute, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, is to advance conservation practice in the visual arts, including objects, collections, architecture and sites. As a private, non-profit institution that is part of a larger philanthropic enterprise, the J. Paul Getty Trust, the GCI not only benefits fr om the Getty’s wider institutional resources, but also enjoys the freedom to choose projects that best serve its mission.

Maximum impact

“We’re doing work that other organisations do not do and often cannot do,” says Tim Whalen, who has led the GCI for the past 17 years as its third, and longest-serving, director. He stresses that although the GCI cares about heritage, it is not an advocacy organisation. “There are other very good organisations that do that.” Instead, it focuses on addressing the problems or questions that will benefit large groups, such as its research into Modern paints or Mosaikon, its training programme on how to care for the Mediterranean’s many mosaics. “We’re not about to go after the Holy Grail. As nice as it would be to find it, it would only benefit a small group of people compared with some of the other projects we’re devoting our resources to,” Whalen says. The GCI’s annual budget is around $15m.

“Nimble and flexible”

“The GCI can be more nimble and flexible than other conservation organisations that serve particular constituencies or must respond to political exigencies,” says Jeanne Marie Teutonico, the institute’s associate director of programmes. “We have the capacity to identify conservation needs outside conventional boundaries and to find creative ways of addressing those needs.” The organisation’s flexibility was tested when a Mosaikon training programme scheduled to take place in Syria had to be moved to Italy when fighting within the country escalated. “We’ve had to be creative in finding places to work when we can’t go wh ere we originally intended,” Teutonico says. “This is not a time to abandon our colleagues, but to reach out and to help them.” Despite the last-minute change, many of those who planned to attend were able to travel to Italy, thanks to travel visas secured by partner countries. “We had wonderful co-operation. They really worked to get people from war-torn countries to the training programme,” Teutonico says.

The success of a project often comes down to strong partnerships. “We tend to lead on projects because we have the money to create the research agenda, but we try not to work in isolation,” Whalen says. Teutonico says that collaboration “helps us to extend our reach and maximise our impact”. The institute has worked with museums, heritage organisations and corporations, including a project with Disney Enterprises to analyse the plastics used in animation cels. It has also worked with governments including China, with whom the GCI has a long-standing relationship through its work on the Mogao Grottoes, and Egypt, wh ere it focused on the paintings at the tombs of Nefertari and Tutankhamun.

Clearer role in the world

Much has changed at the institute since 1985, when it was based in small premises in Marina del Rey before moving to its current, Richard Meier-designed building overlooking Los Angeles. Tom Learner, the institute’s head of science, says that its role in the world is becoming much clearer. Like Jeanne Marie Teutonico, he credits the GCI’s status as a private, non-profit organisation with enabling it to do all of the types of things that the conservation field needs but that partner institutions cannot do.

“We can stand back and see what the field needs, and it’s not necessarily immediately obvious,” Learner says. “It’s a very exciting time at the GCI. I [encourage everyone] to watch this space.”
Source: The Art Newspaper 

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