By Timothy P. Whalen
At the core of the mission of the J. Paul Getty Trust is a profound belief in the enriching character of works of art. The dimensions of that enrichment are broad. Art has aesthetic and cultural value, yet it is also a source of knowledge, offering tangible evidence of past aspirations, achievements, and attitudes. Art can delight the eye, but in addition, it can provide important information about how we once lived and how we might reflect on our own times.
Value, in and of itself, does not ensure survival. Objects of art need care and protection. These treasures are ours only temporarily, and we carry the responsibility to pass them on to future generations.
The Getty Trust has long understood the importance of conservation in fulfilling this responsibility. Since the early 1980s, it has made a substantial contribution to the conservation of the visual arts, providing both expertise and financial resources. This commitment to conservation is manifest not only in the care and conservation of its own collections but also in work done around the world.
The Getty takes a strategic approach to conservation, seeking ways to strengthen conservation's infrastructure and to advance conservation practice. It conducts research—for example, the Getty Conservation Institute's scientific investigation of new techniques for illuminating light-sensitive old master drawings, and the Getty Museum's technical studies of works of art. It also supports conservation initiatives such as the Getty Foundation's architectural conservation program. It offers expertise to the visual arts community through efforts such as the Museum's conservation partnerships that provide for the study and restoration of major works of art from other institutions. It demonstrates best practices in the conservation of a wide variety of materials, as exemplified by the work of the Getty Research Institute. It shares knowledge by providing resources such as the GCI's AATA Online—a free database of conservation literature abstracts—and through the organizing of conferences and workshops by Getty programs, such as the recent symposium on modern paint materials, coorganized in London by the GCI, Tate, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. And it works in partnership with colleagues in the field—for instance, the GCI's field projects in places such as China and Tunisia. In all of these efforts, the Getty programs seek to adhere to a standard of excellence.
Our goal in this edition of Conservation is to reveal some of the ways that the Getty's four programs engage in conservation. We at the GCI have asked our colleagues in the Museum, the Research Institute, and the Foundation to join us within these pages to offer a glimpse of the variety of conservation work in which the Getty engages. The statements from the program leaders and the examples that follow illuminate the extent of the Getty's commitment to conservation and to the values that drive this important work. At the heart of this work is an abiding respect for the intrinsic importance of art—its insights, its history, and its ability to enhance our vision of the world.