Conservation image
Conservation image

The Getty Conservation Institute is part of the Getty Trust, a private operating foundation dedicated to the visual arts and the humanities. In the last decade and a half, the Getty has become a multifaceted international cultural institution with a range of programs designed to offer people opportunities to more fully understand, study, enjoy, value, and preserve the world's cultural heritage.

This special issue of Conservation, The GCI Newsletter, marks the public opening of the new Getty Center in Los Angeles, home to the programs of the Getty Trust. In addition to the GCI, those programs are the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities, the Getty Information Institute, the Getty Education Institute for the Arts, and the Getty Grant Program.

Conservation invited the director of each Getty program to contribute to this issue in order to give our readership a broad picture of the diverse work of the Getty, the importance of conservation in each program's mission, and the collaborative nature of the Getty as a whole. The directors' essays, which follow, briefly describe their programs and examples of ways they promote the preservation of cultural heritage.


The J. Paul Getty Museum
By John Walsh

Conservation image

In 1953 J. Paul Getty opened a small museum in his Malibu home to display his art collection to the public. During the intervening forty-four years, that small museum has expanded twice and become one of the world's most vital art institutions. In its new home at the Getty Center and, after the year 2001, in the renovated Roman villa in Malibu that housed the entire collection from 1974 to 1997, the J. Paul Getty Museum will continue to pursue its mission of acquiring, conserving, publishing, exhibiting, and interpreting works of art. Our collection includes classical antiquities; European paintings, drawings, sculpture, illuminated manuscripts, and decorative arts; and photographs.

Conservation is an essential element of the Museum's mission and a fundamental responsibility. Our conservators participate in nearly everything the museum undertakes, and they are central to our success. Twenty-eight professionals in four conservation departments, as well as a varying number of interns and other trainees, perform a remarkably wide range of services. They support our effort to exhibit and interpret the collections now, and to preserve them for the enjoyment and education of future generations.

Conservation image
Conservation image

These are a few basic principles that underlie our efforts.

Prevention: Avoiding deterioration by eliminating its cause is more effective and less expensive in the long run than repair. For that reason, we pursue an aggressive program of preventive conservation that includes climate control and environmental monitoring; design of mounts and display cases; pest management; and storage, packing, and shipping methods. Mitigating the effects of earthquakes is a special challenge here in California. We are recognized around the world for our research in this area and for the solutions we have developed.

Reversibility: While no treatment is 100 percent reversible, we aim to come as close as possible to that standard. Since methods for cleaning, reassembly, and restoration are subject to periodic reevaluation because of technical innovations and changing values, it is important that our work be reversible so as not to impede the work of future conservators.

Aesthetic responsibility: Not only do our conservators preserve the collection, they help make works of art readable to visitors so that they see the art rather than any damage to it. This often involves a tricky balancing act, employing suggestive measures to make the work appear complete while not obscuring the visual difference between original work and restoration.

Conservation image

Our priorities for conservation are determined not only by our own needs but by the needs of the field as a whole. We help develop new methods with their wide applicability in mind. We sponsor or cosponsor symposia and publish the proceedings to both inspire and disseminate new research. We treat numerous pieces from other museum collections, especially important works from institutions that lack the ability to treat the works themselves. Our conservators serve as advisers to other institutions and lecture extensively to both conservation professionals and more general audiences.

We are especially fortunate to have the opportunity to work with the GCI. Their Museum Research Laboratory provides invaluable services to our conservation departments by performing scientific analyses of works being treated and by collaborating on research projects. We have cosponsored a number of symposia with the GCI, a notable example being a conference on the conservation of archaeological sites in the Mediterranean region, held in May 1995. The GCI also gives members of our staff the opportunity to consult and teach, both in GCI training programs and in field projects all over the world, enabling them to contribute to their field and widen their own professional experience. We feel lucky to have such colleagues near at hand, for the future will offer many chances to collaborate.

John Walsh is the director of the J. Paul Getty Museum.


The Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities
By Salvatore Settis

Conservation image

The Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities (GRI) is an advanced research institution dedicated to the production and support of interdisciplinary scholarship in the arts and humanities. The GRI is predicated on the belief that visual arts and artifacts should not be studied in isolation but assessed within the historical and cultural contexts in which they were created. The GRI unites two features that give special character to our work in preservation and conservation: inquiry and custodianship.

Preservation and conservation, activities generally associated with monuments and works of art, also pertain to ideas and traditions of research. In this sense, the programs and collections of the GRI encourage the preservation of knowledge through research, debate, and dissemination. The GRI also engages in the collection and physical preservation of materials that have created and disseminated knowledge and meaning.

The GRI plays a critical role in the preservation and conservation of cultural heritage through its assembly of books, libraries, archives, manuscripts, and documentary photographs—sometimes acquired individually but often acquired as entire collections—to support research but also to preserve primary documentation within its context. The continual reassessment of cultural heritage that underlies all our activities is evident in our acquisition of artifacts, images, texts, and the ideas they represent, which may not be perceived as having value now, but may in the future.

Conservation image
Conservation image
Conservation image

We also preserve the intellectual and contextual integrity of research materials. Our collections had their beginnings in the acquisition of the libraries and archives of a number of eminent art historians. Not only could we never hope to duplicate the intellectual vision that went into creating such assemblages of scholarly materials, but also, more importantly, such acquisitions prevent these collections from being dispersed into the marketplace. By recognizing the value for historical research of groups of images or artifacts that were assembled for a purpose and have an identity as such, we are preserving the past for the future. Our acquisitions of the Werner Nekes collection on the history of modern visual perception and the Pierre de Gigord collection of 19th-century photographs of the Ottoman Empire are examples.

Some of our collections document the history of preservation and restoration, as well as debates about conservation policy, theory, methods, and practices. The GRI holds the archives of such modern conservators as Giannino Marchig, William Suhr, and Mauro Pellicioli, as well as important documentary image collections and historical photographs that in some cases constitute our only record of an object or monument as it existed at a particular moment in time. Examples include our 19th-century photographs of such monuments as the Zapotec site of Mitla, in Oaxaca, Mexico; the royal bas-reliefs of Abomey in the former kingdom of Dahomey in West Africa; Angkor Wat, Cambodia, where looting has been rampant; and photographs of ancient sites in Yugoslavia, Albania, and other areas where recent political turbulence has damaged monuments.

Physical conservation of these materials is essential to their long-term survival. In our new building, conservation efforts will be enhanced by the proximity of our conservation laboratory to the collections. Our staff also provides service to conservation professionals worldwide, collaborating, for example, with the GCI to conserve and catalog the library of the monastery of La Merced—20,000 volumes dating from the 17th century that constitute an important part of the patrimony of the city of Quito, Ecuador.

Through public programs, the GRI advocates the preservation of documentary resources and historical memory. In a joint project undertaken with the Los Angeles Public Library and area high school students, for example, the GRI promotes the preservation and awareness of the extraordinary richness of cultural heritage resources in local neighborhoods. The GRI also initiates public forums on preservation, cultural policy, and historical representation.

A critical comprehension of cultural heritage requires research into the dynamics of cultural creation, conservation, and destruction, as well as a rethinking of how what we preserve helps determine who we are and can be. The GRI is committed to creating new modes of understanding how we live in relation to our legacies from the past, as we attempt to create a more meaningful present and future.

Salvatore Settis is the director of the Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities.


The Getty Education Institute for the Arts
By Leilani Lattin Duke

Conservation image

Conservation is an inspirational concept for the classroom, opening eyes to new cultural perspectives, questioning the interpretation of past civilizations, thinking about the problems of preserving the past for future generations. All of these are areas to explore, and the poster graphics and voices make the sites come alive.
—A Getty Education Institute focus group participant

Since its founding in 1982, the Getty Education Institute for the Arts has encouraged a holistic approach to arts education through an integration of the disciplines that contribute to the creation, understanding, and appreciation of art. This approach includes creative art making (studio art); responding to and making judgments about the properties and qualities that exist in visual forms (art criticism); learning about the contributions artists and art make to culture and society (art history); and understanding the nature, meaning, and value of art (aesthetics).

In 1989, in response to educators' requests for more culturally diverse teaching materials, the Education Institute began collaborating with local and national museums to develop the Multicultural Art Print Series to provide teachers with a powerful way to teach about diverse cultures and peoples through their art. Thirty posters and accompanying curriculum materials have been produced in the first six sets.

Conservation image
Conservation image
Conservation image

The world's cultural heritage was selected as the theme of a new series, "Architecture and Art: Cultural Heritage Sites," the product of a collaboration between the Education Institute and the GCI. The objective of the series, to be published in summer 1998, is to help young people understand and value the world's historic built environments.

The innovative poster package is designed for kindergarten to secondary school classrooms. The posters and teachers' guide illustrate and interpret the rich artistic, social, and historical values of specific international cultural heritage sites, using stories and questions, quotes and images, and exercises and activities. Key events presented in local and global time lines link the sites with other heritage sites worldwide.

It was not easy to select the final five cultural heritage sites to be displayed on the posters. The interdisciplinary team collaborating on this series reviewed sites from around the world before choosing Pueblo Bonito at Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, USA; the Great Mosque in Djenné, Mali; Trajan's Forum in Rome; the Sydney Opera House in Australia; and Katsura Villa, Katsura Gardens, near Kyoto, Japan. Three of the five sites selected are on UNESCO's World Heritage list.

The series is being developed by an interdisciplinary team of Education Institute and GCI staff and art education and conservation consultants. The Education Institute organized two focus group meetings with Los Angeles area art and general classroom teachers that critiqued the content and format of the series and brainstormed on new approaches with teachers, scholars, and conservation specialists.

"Architecture and Art" is the latest of the Education Institute's Multicultural Art Print Series, which has featured "Women Artists of the Americas," "Arts of India," "Pacific Asian Art," "Mexican American Art," "American Indian Artifacts," and "African American Art." Each of these kits includes five 18-by-24-inch laminated posters and a 32-page teachers' guide. The text and graphics of each can be found online at the Education Institute's World Wide Web site ArtsEdNet (http://www.getty.edu/artsednet/). The site includes not only images but also information about the works' cultural contexts, historical backgrounds, and production.

The new poster series and teachers' guide provide a basis for exploring a range of interdisciplinary topics related to art and architecture, including history, geography, materials science, urban planning, archaeology, economics, and many other subjects. The study of conservation and cultural heritage presents a rich opportunity for students and educators to strengthen their knowledge in a variety of areas while having fun with art and architecture. U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley has noted the importance of the arts in students' learning: "Not only can the arts enrich children's lives, there's a lot of evidence that arts education can help children academically. Through the arts, students can hone their basic and problem-solving skills, learn responsibility and the ability to work as a team, sharpen their communication skills, and better understand their own heritage, as well as that of other cultures."

Leilani Lattin Duke is the director of the Getty Education Institute for the Arts.


The Getty Information Institute
By Eleanor Fink

Conservation image

The electronic age is ushering in transformative ways to communicate, exchange, and use information. While these far-reaching changes are clearly driven by economic interests, it is unclear how the rich complexity of the world's cultures will be preserved and find new expression.

The Getty Information Institute works to ensure that cultural heritage information has a strong presence on electronic networks for research, education, and community development. Collaborating with institutions worldwide, the Institute addresses the research needs, standards, and practices that can bring to the cultural heritage community the full benefits of networked digital information. With regard to preservation, the Institute's work is guided by the following principles.

Data Collection as an Investment

Just as curators use appropriate techniques to protect valuable objects, archival techniques are necessary to preserve text and image data. Data collection is by far the most expensive part of any digitization project. Cultural institutions, with traditionally scarce resources, need to maximize their return on a major investment in data collection. It is economically imperative that image and text data be preserved in ways that remain useful over time, despite inevitable changes in hardware and software and potential changes in the uses and audiences for the data. Accepted conventions for the capture and storage of images and texts are essential; research and attention brought to these issues now will help ensure the longevity of digitized art information.

Making Information Accessible

Conservation image

Getting to the right information online is still not as easy as getting to it in a bookstore or library. Only the most tenacious users will overcome barriers to access such as different command languages and descriptive vocabularies. The Information Institute's vision for the future centers around the concept of the "virtual database," in which one can easily search different Web sites and databases as if the data were in one giant resource. Indexing and retrieval tools, like those we take for granted in libraries, are required to bring order to the chaotic networked environment.

Conservation image
Conservation image

The Information Institute addresses these principles by encouraging awareness of methods and standards needed to ensure the longevity and usability of data and by cultivating interest in the new opportunities that networks afford to create global digital libraries of text and images. To promote these perspectives in policy decisions shaping information networks, the Institute cofounded the National Initiative for Networked Cultural Heritage (NINCH), a Washington-based coalition of 30 arts and humanities organizations. Complementing this effort, the Information Institute's Research Agenda for Networked Cultural Heritage identifies areas of information technology research needed to improve the preservation of and access to information.

The Institute's research tools—such as the Bibliography of the History of Art—contribute cultural information to electronic networks, and the methodologies used to create them serve as models for developing digital resources. Vocabularies such as the Art & Architecture Thesaurus guide online searchers through the multilingual obstacle course of names and places that characterize humanities data.

Conventions such as Object ID, developed in collaboration with the GCI, provide essential structures for cultural heritage documentation. Object ID represents international consensus on 10 simple categories for identifying art objects. The categories, together with a photograph, enable those responsible for protecting cultural objects (including international law enforcement agencies and the insurance industry) to share identification information via networks to help stem the traffic in stolen art.

The Information Institute undertakes collaborative demonstration projects to test models and networking tools. Los Angeles Culture Net is a community networking initiative exploring how digital technology can help build and serve communities. Participants include Getty programs, along with more than 100 organizations and 1,000 individuals throughout Los Angeles. The "Faces of L.A." component of the Los Angeles Culture Net demonstrates the virtual database concept: Southern California museums and libraries collaborate to make their digitized collections easily accessible through a common, vocabulary-enhanced search interface.

The future of cultural heritage information depends on how it enters the digital environment. Success will require standards, tools for searching and sharing, the capacity for multiple uses and adaptability, and testing among diverse audiences—all areas that the Information Institute investigates under its mandate. Because global networks will be the arena for the new information age, the Information Institute works to ensure the future of cultural heritage in a networked world.

Eleanor Fink is the director of the Getty Information Institute.


The Getty Grant Program
By Deborah Marrow

Conservation image

The role of the Getty Grant Program is to strengthen the fields in which the Getty is active by providing support for projects undertaken by individuals and organizations throughout the world. To do so, the Grant Program provides funding for a diverse range of projects that contribute to the understanding and conservation of cultural heritage. We look for projects that can make a significant difference in their fields, projects of exceptional merit for which resources are limited. Each year we receive thousands of requests for support, and the decision-making process to determine which projects to fund includes hundreds of specialists from all over the world. To date, the Grant Program has provided assistance to over 1,700 projects in 135 countries. Among these, four exemplary projects may give an idea of the program's scope.

The Grant Program dedicates a significant portion of its funding to research, and we are particularly interested in the connection between research and conservation. One of the most ambitious research projects supported by the Grant Program is currently taking place in Chiapas, Mexico, at the site of Bonampak, which includes some of the greatest 8th-century Maya mural paintings. A team of scholars from the United States and Mexico is working to recover the lost details of the murals, currently obscured by calcite, through the use of advanced computer technology. By creating computer-enhanced images that reveal the beauty and clarity of the murals without altering the originals, the scholars are providing the basis for new interpretations of Maya art and culture.

Conservation image

A significant portion of the Grant Program's funding is specifically allocated to conservation. Grants are provided for projects at museums and historic buildings. The emphasis is on preventive conservation, research and planning before intervention, training opportunities, and projects that provide models of conservation practice for their region or discipline. An important example of preventive conservation is the PREMA project undertaken by ICCROM and funded by the Grant Program. PREMA is a comprehensive training program designed to address the needs of museums in sub-Saharan Africa. Hundreds of museum professionals throughout Africa have participated in conservation training activities that begin with yearlong courses in Rome and continue with shorter courses in Africa.

Conservation image

Another grant supported the conservation of the early Christian and medieval mosaics in the 5th-century Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, one of Christianity's most important religious sites. The mosaics were studied by a team of conservators, scientists, and art historians who undertook a photographic study, scientific analysis, research on the history of the mosaics and their restorations, and the development of a detailed conservation plan. This planning, which represents the crucial first step in the preservation of the mosaics, is already serving as a model for conservation documentation.

Finally, the conservation of the medieval Baltit Fort, situated along the ancient Silk Road in northern Pakistan, was cofunded by the Grant Program and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. The fort has extraordinary cultural, historical, and architectural significance. It is the last remaining example of its architectural type in the region and is a modern tourist destination as well. The conservation project included the training of workers in traditional crafts methods, as well as the formulation of a tourism management plan.

Conservation image

These projects are just a few of hundreds that have been carried out by outstanding and dedicated conservators, museum professionals, scholars, and architects all over the world. Many of the funded projects have shown signs of an increasing integration between the fields the Grant Program serves, particularly art history and conservation. As a result, many of the conservation grant categories are being broadened. For example, the museum conservation grants are now placing greater emphasis on the dissemination of the results of research and treatment to both professionals and the general public, and the architectural conservation grants are being expanded to include the development of archaeological site management plans. And all of the grants will continue to place an emphasis on cross-disciplinary projects that can serve as models and create an impact on a region or a field.

Deborah Marrow is the director of the Getty Grant Program.