On Restoration

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Giuseppe Piva
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On Restoration

Post by Giuseppe Piva » Tue May 15, 2018 9:25 am

Hello everyone.

There has been some discussion about a very interesting topic recently over the internet: restoration of Japanese armor. I have been professionally in contact with restorers for the last 25 years but as a third-generation antique dealer, I have always been living among them since I was a child. I would like to clarify some points and explain some issues that may be not immediately evident to everyone.

First of all we should distinguish some terminology and not call everything “restoration”:
  • Conservation: to conserve is the supreme preservation principle. Together with stabilization and safeguarding measures, conservation work that protects the item’s materials and prevents its further loss should have absolute priority overall other measures. It seems that somehow when a collector says “I don’t like items restored” implies he does not want them preserved. This is obviously not true.
  • Restoration: To restore means to re-establish. The aim of restoration is to reveal the aesthetic and historic value of the work of art and is based on respect for original materials. The most common work in this category is cleaning.
  • Renovation/Replacement: To renovate means to renew. Renovation aims particularly at achieving aesthetic unity in the sense of "making new again". This refers to adding a missing part or replace a completely destroyed one. In armor, the most common work of this kind is lacing replacement, something we all consider acceptable when the old one falls apart. It is anyway up to the conservator to decide for this and many museums or collectors just add nylon thread to support the armor’s plates. Replacement should be done on secondary elements, otherwise the risk is to create a fake, and only on damaged parts; for this reason, completely relacquering an item that has only few chips can not be considered a good restoration! A collector is free to decide how renovated he wants his items to be; one may not care of added kanamono because they look good, but it is perfectly understandable that another one likes only original parts on his items.
Understanding the above terminology brings us to consider two main approaches:
  • A "museal" approach, where all restored parts should be visible. The added parts are done in a different color and there are never repaintings which cover original parts. The main point of this approach is about preserving the actual state and avoid that a work of art will get worse as time passes.
  • A "commercial" approach, where the restored parts should not be visible and merge perfectly with the original ones. The main point of this approach is about making the item similar to the original state.
These approaches are seen on paintings, sculptures, ceramics, etc: a museum, for instance, will not cover the joint of a broken porcelain dish, while a collector or a dealer would do that, even if the restoration is declared, for an aesthetic reason. There is a more extreme approaches which tend to preserve everything and not everyone agrees with that: the most famous is the “Louvre way”, where paintings are not even cleaned from the dirty varnish that cover the actual paint.

The second approach of course opens an ethic issue, because we might wonder who is responsible for disclosing the restoration: the seller (who might not know about it if it an old restoration) or the buyer? Each business has a different approach but generally a dealer is responsible, while a private seller or an auction house are not. The main problem is the "weight" of this restoration, and we don't talk only about the percentage of the item that has been restored: I could add a 5% of paint and transform a normal 18th century view of Venice in a Canaletto worth millions, if I know what to add or modify! So basically one should decide what is important in a work of art. And this might be personal. If I consider kabuto collecting, a new shikoro on an old bachi is acceptable, while a new bachi on an old shikoro is not, even if the amount of iron used for the two parts is the same.

Finally, the golden rule of restoration is that a work has to be reversible. Traditionally, Japan does not have a “restoration” culture but a “renovation/replacement” approach. They just rebuild temples when they are worn. They make new castles. In Japan a completely relacquered kawari kabuto might be seen as "restored" (but you won’t see that at the Tokyo National Museum anyway).
I hope it is now clear that speaking just of being pro or against “restoration” does not really make much sense. It is all a matter of what kind of work is needed and what we want to achieve.
Giuseppe
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Luc Taelman
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Re: On Restoration

Post by Luc Taelman » Tue May 15, 2018 11:24 am

I fully agree with this approach!
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John Wee Tom
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Re: On Restoration

Post by John Wee Tom » Tue May 15, 2018 1:43 pm

Very well said, Giuseppe. I think you have encapsulated the overall approach to restoration advocated by the JAS and most of our members.
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Kelly Schmidt
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Re: On Restoration

Post by Kelly Schmidt » Tue May 15, 2018 3:11 pm

Thank you, Giusseppe,

Very informative! Let us all consider, case by case, what is necessary.
Kelly Schmidt, Japanese Antique Auctions, Himeji, Japan

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Uwe Sacklowski
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Re: On Restoration

Post by Uwe Sacklowski » Tue May 15, 2018 5:01 pm

Absolutely my point of view!
Thanks Giuseppe!
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Henry Jones
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Re: On Restoration

Post by Henry Jones » Wed May 16, 2018 3:23 am

Ad idem ! 8-)

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Henry Jones
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Re: On Restoration

Post by Henry Jones » Wed Jun 20, 2018 8:09 pm

Video worth a watch.

From the Met's website:

"Conserving Japanese Works of Art in Foreign Collections - Art of the Samurai

The exhibition Art of the Samurai: Japanese Arms and Armor, 1156-1868, on view at the Met from October 2009 through January 2010, is drawn entirely from public and private collections in Japan. The first ever exhibition to be devoted to the subject of Japanese arms and armor conservation, it evokes the life and culture of the historic Japanese samurai.

Mr. Suzuki describes the work of the Project for the Conservation of Japanese Art Objects Overseas, an initiative to repair Japanese art objects in foreign collections, and has worked on many owned by the Metropolitan Museum. "These art objects have an important role as cultural ambassadors," he explains, but many have deteriorated over time. This show celebrates the conservation of Japanese art objects, presenting artworks of an exceptional quality in hopes of promoting mutual cultural respect and understanding.

Norio Suzuki, Director-General, National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Tokyo; introduced by Victor Harris, Keeper Emeritus of Japanese Antiquities, British Museum, honorary librarian of The Japan Society, and author and art consultant"

https://www.metmuseum.org/metmedia/vide ... rks-of-art

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Giuseppe Piva
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Re: On Restoration

Post by Giuseppe Piva » Fri Jun 22, 2018 1:44 pm

thank you Henry!
I am glad he points out how urushi is not suitable for restoration, while new synthetic resins are reversible and easy to use.
Giuseppe
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Luc Taelman
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Re: On Restoration

Post by Luc Taelman » Mon Jun 25, 2018 6:23 am

I think many will be surprised by this theory.
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John Wee Tom
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Re: On Restoration

Post by John Wee Tom » Mon Jun 25, 2018 12:59 pm

Giuseppe Piva wrote:
Fri Jun 22, 2018 1:44 pm
I am glad he points out how urushi is not suitable for restoration, while new synthetic resins are reversible and easy to use.
But Giuseppe, he ends by saying that in Japan, urushi is still the preferred and more widely used method of restoration...and that ongoing discussion continues and is important.
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