In the workshop

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Every day, they work to preserve the inimitable quality of some 110,000 items held by the Kunsthaus in a vast array of genres and forms, from paintings, sculptures and installations to works on paper, photographs, historic documents and time-based art, and allow visitors to experience them as the artists intended. They employ a wide range of techniques, often involving complex and innovative strategies.

Prevention

The first objective is to prevent damage, and so create the best possible conditions for conserving, researching and presenting the collection. Climate, lighting, storage and security conditions have to be checked and set to just the right levels; appropriate packaging systems, mountings and frames need to be selected and designed, and suitable storage environments put in place for digital artworks.

« Our top priority is clearly to prevent damage. Before a work is loaned out, for example, we assess whether its condition will allow it, and weigh up all the risks. » — Kerstin Mürer, Head of the Conservation and Restoration Department

Regular monitoring and documentation is vital to the early detection and rectification of material changes and damage to works of art, not least during international loans between museums. The conservation documentation also includes scientific information.

For contemporary works such as installations and performances it details the underlying concepts, specific exhibition requirements and new adaptations of them as well as correspondence with artists. This archive enables individual works to be conserved appropriately and proactively.

Conservation and restoration

Despite our best efforts, time invariably leaves its mark on works of art, as it does on all things. Materials age and decay: colours fade or darken, supports such as wood, canvas, paper and plastic can yellow and become brittle, binding agents and glues degrade, digital data experience ‘bit rot’. Maintaining works of art necessitates a vast array of conservation measures, from consolidating loose flakes of paint, sealing cracks and cleaning to migrating digital information into readable formats.

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Conservation project Fischli / Weiss

The ‘False Idols’ are part of the ‘Fever’ series created between 1983 and 1984 by the artist duo Fischli/Weiss. As part of the installation project that continues in the Kunsthaus Collection until May 2019, the work is being analysed and treated to conserve it – partly with public access – and will then be put on display.

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Restoration and digitization of the video collection

In a multi-year restoration and digitization project in the video collection, around 260 analogue tapes are being restored, digitized and preserved in a digital long-term archive.

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In some cases restoration is needed to repair damage to an artwork that impairs its aesthetic qualities, for example retouching areas of loss in a painting or photographic coating. Every restoration is preceded by a carefully calibrated analysis of the work’s condition. Scientific examinations frequently elicit vital information that guides the choice of treatment methods. The approach adopted takes account of the artist’s intentions and the work’s history; where contemporary art is involved, this is supported by dialogue with the artist.

Once the action required has been assessed and a suitable method found or, if necessary, developed, the guiding principle is that intervention should be cautious and no more invasive than is absolutely necessary, allowing for further restoration measures later if required.

Research

If an artwork poses especially complex questions of artistic technique or there are particular issues surrounding the type, changes to and stabilization of the materials used, specifically targeted, practice-oriented research projects are carried out. Investigations are conducted using a range of visual procedures such as X-rays or UV light and the microscope, removing a tiny sample of the material for analysis if necessary.

An appraisal of historical formulations, studio records and diaries, artist’s letters or collaboration with the artist’s studio are essential parts of the process. These enable original techniques to be replicated, providing sample materials that can be used to investigate processes of creation and ageing and test new treatment methods.

The department works with research partners, scientific laboratories and experts, providing an in-depth interpretation of the results and ensuring the low-risk use of new materials, equipment and measures. The Kunsthaus’s ability to research and restore individual works of art, some of them extensively damaged, is thanks largely to the generous support of sponsors.

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Expert opinions

On official consultation days, which take place one Wednesday afternoon a month, you can make an appointment for our curators and restoration experts to appraise your works of art. We do not provide any information on trade or market prices.

Information & registration

info@kunsthaus.ch
Tel. +41 44 253 8431