By Timothy P. Whalen
Since the publication of the previous edition of Conservation Perspectives, James N. Wood, the president and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust (of which the GCI is a part) died suddenly of natural causes. We mourn his passing.
Jim took on the leadership of the Getty in February 2007. During the time that he led the Trust, he displayed the same enthusiasm and devotion to the arts that characterized his twenty-four-year directorship of the Art Institute of Chicago. He fervently believed that the arts are critical to sustaining a civil society, and he advocated for the arts throughout his professional life. During his tenure at the Getty Trust, he also displayed great admiration for the role of conservation in the preservation of our artistic heritage—and special admiration for the multifaceted work of the GCI. On a trip to Egypt to observe the GCI's work in the Valley of the Queens— which includes the conservation of tomb wall paintings—he expressed particular appreciation for the conservation of works of art in their full context. It is therefore fitting that we dedicate to Jim this edition of Conservation Perspectives, which is focused on decorated architectural surfaces.
The GCI has had a long-term commitment to the conservation of decorated architectural surfaces. Wall paintings, mosaics, textured plaster finishes, stucco, and tiles are among the many surface treatments requiring conservation that can be found in a variety of contexts, from historic and modern buildings to archaeological sites. As GCI senior project specialist and wall paintings conservator Leslie Rainer explains in her article, "decorated surfaces are intrinsically tied to the architectural system, inevitably suffering from deterioration factors affecting the building, monument, or site where they are located". The complex relationship between material and setting poses equally complex conservation challenges—challenges that the GCI has been working to address over the years in a number of projects. Polychrome earthen bas-reliefs in Benin, mosaics in Tunisia and Israel, and wall paintings in China, Egypt, and Italy have been among the subjects of the GCI's work, as the Institute seeks to develop and refine methods for preserving this element of our cultural heritage.
Three other articles in this newsletter offer a more detailed view of GCI work in the conservation of decorated architectural surfaces. The first of these summarizes the work of the Organic Materials in Wall Paintings project, a multiyear collaboration with several institutions in Italy that sought to develop a methodology for identifying organic materials used in wall paintings—materials that are particularly vulnerable during intervention. A second article describes MOSAIKON, a major new collaboration of the GCI, the Getty Foundation, ICCROM, and the International Committee for the Conservation of Mosaics that seeks to take a strategic approach to the conservation and management of archaeological mosaics in the Mediterranean region. The third article focuses on a current GCI partnership with Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities that is undertaking the conservation and management of the tomb of Tutankhamen, including the conservation of the tomb's wall paintings. Finally, three professionals whose experience with decorated architectural surfaces ranges from ancient plasters and wall paintings to modern architectural surfaces discuss some of the considerations that relate to the treatment of these elements—a provocative exploration of this especially complicated area of conservation.