Friday Morning Paintings Session held on May 14th

The morning session was opened by Bart J.C. Devolder Assistant Conservator of Paintings at the Kimbell Art Museum & Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth.

Patricia M. Dillion the President of Putnam Art Advisors & Consultants in Greenwich Connecticut began the talks with a discussion of The Conservator As An Expert Witness, Witness, or Party in Litigation. This talk presented a series of cautionary tales or case studies about the many roles a conservator may play when brought into or involoved in litigation. Dillion discussed instances of when a conservator might find themselves in the unexpected position of an Expert Witness, a Fact Witness, or the Party (either planitff or defendant). She mentioned that conservators’ unique specialties often make them excellent Expert Witnesses with instances of fakes and forgeries. In addition you might find yourself called to testify in support of or against a treatment done by another conservator (malpractice). She went on to stress that you need to have every essential document, communicate with your attorney, and understand your role.

She went on to emphasize that when you step out of your specialty you may be opening yourself up to litigation where you might find yourself the defendant. Dillion stressed that there is a whole industry whose purpose is to simply create litigation, where lawyers will hunt for reasons to sue. She cautioned about working from a studio in an apartment building when you may have chemicals on site. I don’t think she meant it was necessarily a real safety issue (if you are taking proper/legal precautions), but rather you may have one nosey neighbor who may find an opportunity to exploit you. She emphasized that conservation is a business where you may have employees and people coming in off the street who could one day present you with a suit. While this sounded like a bit much, I think her message was well understood in that you simply need to be proactive to protect yourself.

Dillion stated that, “if you find yourself in a courtroom being held liable it is because your work was not up to the standard of a reasonable conservator”. In any case it is essential to thoroughly educate your attorney about conservation so that they can articulate their ideas. I think a major overall theme was as a conservator be abreast of current literature and bring your lawyer up to speed as much as possible.

The second talk was eloquently delivered by Laszlo Cser of Resotart Inc., Toronto, Canada on Reflections On The Primacy Of The Image in Connoisseurship and Conservation. Cser opened by discussing the meaning of language and emphasized that looking at art was highly subjective experience. He mentioned the role of the collector as one who appreciates the work of an artist and we are here to help preserve objects on their march through time. Cser’s talk highlighted the 23 year relationship between himself and art connoisseur Ken Thomson. Upon Ken Thomson’s death in 2006, his son David called Cser and asked him if he would have time to prepare his father’s collection in time for the opening of the new Art Gallery of Ontario in 2008. Ken Thomson had left his collection of some 700 objects to the gallery. Working with 2 colleagues between 60 and 80 hours a week, Cser set out to prepare the collection.

Thomson had sent Cser many objects over the years and was committed to their material survival and had immense respect for every artist’s work. Examples of the kinds of objects treated where shown, from a prayer bead the size of a golf ball to a 12th c. gilt bronze sculpture. He also discussed paintings treatments including works by Lawren S. Harris and Cornelius Krieghoff. These were complimented by gallery images after installation at the AGO. The show was personally curated by Ken Thomson’s son David who made an innovative decision and removed all current frames and reframed works with identical frames. The author and this blogger feel that this exhibition at the Art gallery of Ontario should not be missed.