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Art restoration: Saving cultural heritage

Yun Kyung Kim

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Thu, July 27, 2017  /  09:46 am
Art restoration: Saving cultural heritage

Considering art’s immeasurable value, international art restorers are helping to preserve and conserve artwork in countries like Indonesia. (Shutterstock/File)

The value of a work of art cannot be simplified into words or monetary terms. As the saying goes: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

Considering art’s immeasurable value, international art restorers are helping to preserve and conserve artwork in countries like Indonesia.  

Italian antique and modern art restorer Michaela Anselmini recalled it was in 2011 when she began restoring art in Indonesia with an art gallery owner in Bali, as the country lacked restorers and educational programs. 

“I have noticed that Indonesia wants to start taking care of art,” she said during a discussion organized by the Italian Embassy and the Italian Cultural Institute.

The discussion, themed “Remembering the Future: Urgent Issues on Art Conservation in Indonesia” and involving curator Rizki A. Zaelani, aimed to educate participants on the importance of preserving Indonesian antiques and artwork.

Anselmini, a renowned individual in the field of art restoration and conservation, specializes in antique, modern and contemporary works of art.

She grew up surrounded by handicrafts, which initially sparked her interest in art restoration.

Since 1993, she has spent her professional years working and learning about art conservation in a number of different countries, including Indonesia.

Having first visited Indonesia for an art exhibition in Bali in 2010, she quickly became interested in the country’s craftsmanship. Since the visit, she has been working to educate Indonesians about art restoration through workshops and seminars. 

Although she is not based in Indonesia, she has had the time to network with local artists and introduce art restoration methods.

Anselmini said art restoration was especially important in countries like Indonesia where a humid climate results in conservation problems.

Humidity is one of the most common causes of damaged artwork in Indonesia. Humid weather not only wears out paintings, but it also creates an environment that allows woodworms to thrive. The insects begin eating the stretcher bars before gradually moving to the main canvas, thus damaging the whole painting.

“Another challenge I faced when working with paintings in Indonesia was that the paintings were not layered with varnish. So when I’m cleaning an artwork, I have to be very careful because I might be dealing with the original layer of paint.” 

Many different factors can affect the state of the artwork, such as stress cracks that cause paintings to flake over time or humidity that creates blotched areas.

Different damages require unique restoration treatments, and in many cases it cannot be returned to its original state. However, restorers try to preserve artwork in consistent conditions to maintain its quality. 

“I had the privilege to see The Last Supper painting, and it is really damaged when you see it up close. And in order to maintain the current state of the artwork, it is preserved in an area that has constant conditions such as humidity,” Anselmini said. 

She said restoration efforts could take months, depending on the type of treatment the artwork needs.

“Restoration is suffering and is hell. Although preserving art is costly and time-consuming, it’s important because you are saving cultural heritage for future generations.”

Anselmini said she wanted to continue educating people by opening a restoration studio or program in Indonesia to emphasize that art restoration was practical as it involved conservation to preserve art for the future.

Art, she emphasized, is not replaceable and must be preserved. 

“A piece of artwork can mean the whole world to some people. And although restoration treatment can’t bring the original image [back], it can help minimize and stop further damage.”


The writer is an intern at The Jakarta Post