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2006 | 2 | 5-39

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Apresentation of an outline of problems relating to the conservation-restoration of cultural property, including painting and sculpture, from the times of the Old Masters to modern ephemeral art, as well as accompanying theories, with particular emphasis placed on their contemporary social dimension. The history and present of the conservation-restoration of cultural property is part both of the history of civilisation and the variable perception of art. Praxis, whose beginnings go back to antiquity, was connected with the skills of the artists, and constituted a source of knowledge originally limited to technological reflections; in the course of the eighteenth century it evolved towards a distinct profession of the conservator-restorer which led to, i. a. the publication of guidelines for pursuing this profession. During the nineteenth century those collections of directives and recommendations changed into a number of assorted theories relating to the protection of historical monuments associated with current cultural trends. An analysis of the situation of European art and pertinent protection demonstrates vast historical differentiation within the interpretation of such basic ethical and aesthetic questions as: “to conserve or to restore?”. Understanding the past and the motives of the protectors of art has, paradoxically, become extremely useful for recognising the contemporary reasons for the changing fate of the protection of art and thus also the state of art itself. The present-day theory of the conservation of cultural property is made up of components of the most varied origin: fundamental studies, starting with classical nineteenth-century theories, Ruskin’s arguments in discussions involving Romantic historicism and stylistic purists, theories maintained in the spirit of historical relativism launched by A. Riegel and M. Dworak, and the twentieth-century aesthetic theory of restoration devised by C. Brandi and U. Baldini, all the way to the contemporary stands represented by, i. a. C. Caple and S. Munoz Vinas, interpreting the question of “sustainable conservation”. During the second half of the twentieth century the conservation-restoration of cultural property in a number of countries remained relatively autonomous. Upon the basis of respected conservation charters and codified principles, professionals decided about the diagnosis and conception of conservation as well as the projects of selecting the importance of operations in the “to conserve and not to restore” spirit – or to restore as little as possible. Specially established professional experts, together with conservators- restorers, art historians, architects, archaeologists, etc., were entrusted with the joint task of tackling the investors. During the last quarter of the twentieth century an entirely new group has assumed leadership in the protection of cultural heritage. This social group, possessing its own criteria and opinions, includes economists, specialists on tourism, as well as others who in their capacity as the protectors of cultural heritage also express their objectives. Cesare Brandi described this tendency as one which accompanied conservation in the 1970s, but some thirty years later it became dominating. Within such a social context, the universally expressed need is that for reinforcing the authority of the conservation milieus, including the conservator-restorer envisaged as the author of projects aimed at protecting a given object. Within the choice of such premises as the recognition and selection of the merits of an object, the assessment of its welfare, and its significance as a work of art, a supposition stemming from its substance as a monument, structure and message, importance is attached to a consensus with economic factors and functions in contemporary society. Acting as an advocate of the wellbeing of a given object, the conservator- restorer represents in complex negotiations the interest of future generations conceived as users, i. e. a cause which often might be deemed unpopular. Taking into account the fact that the unfortunately universal feature of contemporary civilisation is indifference to the past and the protection of its souvenirs, this situation cannot be simply ignored. “Sustainable conservation” forecasts a more extensive and pro-social activity of conservators-restorers and numerous social groups organised for the sake of protecting cultural heritage than has been the case in heretofore systems. Contemporary conservation ethics thus introduces and foresees the existence of sociological instruments which imply a social understanding of theory and its practical aspects. The media and modern social communication, open to other environments, can prevent the alienation and misunderstanding of the priorities of protecting historical monuments . The conservation-restoration of cultural property is composed of distinctive parts of scientific and artistic disciplines, comprising a specific, constantly and dynamically developing branch of science. It may exist exclusively as an interdisciplinary and independent unit, combining science and art, and should not be atomised or divided into two parts – scientific, i. e. a fragment of the humanities or the exact sciences, and artistic. In praxis, this approach is evidenced by the more than sixty-years old tradition of the academic training of Polish conservatorsrestorers. Taking into account the complexity of the presented problems of conservation-restoration and the variable and differentiated perception of art, the far-reaching target of contemporary theory has assumed the shape of creating a foundation for a socially wide comprehension of the welfare of cultural heritage. Respect for society’s need to participate in culture comes down to basic questions about the active protection of cultural property: what exactly is the object of protection conceived as common heritage?, how should protection be performed in accordance with the standards of good practice? and, finally but just as importantly, for whose sake are we acting?! By understanding the past and interpreting the present – that sad global “today” of cultural heritage which lacks sufficient funds and appreciation for the essence of cultural heritage – contemporary theory relies on the basic idea of social cooperation, transcending all boundaries between society and cultural property.






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  • prof., absolwentka konserwacji malarstwa sztalugowego i rzeźby polichromowanej UMK w Toruniu, stypendystka Uniwersytetu La Sapienza w Rzymie. Artysta konserwator-restaurator w zakresie konserwacji- restauracji malarstwa i sztuki nowoczesnej. W latach 1976-1981 była asystentką i konserwatorem w Muzeum Narodowym w Warszawie. Od 1981 pracownik naukowodydaktyczny, przewody z zakresu technik i teorii konserwacji-restauracji. Tytuł naukowy prof. sztuk plastycznych w 1994 r., obecnie prof. zwyczajny Wydziału Konserwacji i Restauracji Dzieł Sztuki ASP w Warszawie, kierownik Katedry Konserwacji Malarstwa na Podłożach Ruchomych i Rzeźby Polichromowanej, jak również kierownik Interdyscyplinarnej Pracowni Propedeutyki Konserwacji Sztuki Współczesnej w ASP w Poznaniu. Członek-założyciel ENCoRE i INCCA, członek ICOM oraz Conservation Committee Theory Group, a także Prezydium Komitetu Nauk o Sztuce PAN. Jest autorką wielu projektów badawczych: resortowych, KBN, Unii Europejskiej, z zakresu metodyki i technik konserwatorskich, opieki nad sztuką nowoczesną, historii i teorii konserwacji-restauracji.
  • I. M. Szmelter, Akademia Sztuk Pieknych w Poznaniu, Interdyscyplinarna Pracownia Propedeutyki Konserwacji Sztuki Wspolczesnej, al. Marcinkowskiego 29, 60-967 Poznan, Poland


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