The Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building provides a new home to three of the Museum's major areas of conservation, with fully equipped laboratories for the treatment of paintings, works on paper, and costume and textiles. The state-of-the-art labs offer conservators much-needed additional work space and give them dramatically expanded capabilities for the examination, preservation, and restoration of works of art. These conservation labs are located adjacent to curatorial departments that have also moved to the Perelman Building and specialize in the same collections.
Much of the painting conservators' work has been relocated from the main Museum building to a spectacular new 2500-square-foot facility on the third floor of the Perelman Building. The Perelman building contains a uniquely suitable space for this purpose, featuring tall, north-facing windows that provide plentiful, unobstructed skylight. This is the single most important requirement for the exacting viewing of paintings during conservation work, since many artists would have made their most discerning judgments about effects of color and surface under similar light conditions.
The new paintings lab provides an ideal environment for conservators to understand artists' materials and techniques and to determine their condition. Here they will undertake delicate and demanding work, stabilizing deteriorating materials, repairing damage, cleaning to remove substances that hide the artist's original paint (such as grime, discolored varnish, or non-original repaints), and retouching.
Beyond exceptional north light, another advantage of the new location is its proximity to the departments of European Painting and Sculpture before 1900 and American Art, both now headquartered in the Perelman Building. This will allow more opportunities for curators and conservators to work closely and collaboratively on the study and care of paintings.
The new Paper Conservation Laboratory enhances conservators' ability to care for the more than 170,000 objects concentrated in the Departments of Prints, Drawings and Photographs, East Asian Art, and Indian and Himalayan Art. The lab provides paper a flexible and spacious facility with ample room to carry out several projects simultaneously. It offers ample surfaces to accommodate oversized contemporary works that are entering the collection in ever greater numbers (and were often too large even to bring into the old laboratory). For the first time, paper conservators also have facilities for examining and treating East Asian scrolls and screens.
The paper conservation laboratory enables conservators to safely separate "wet" treatment from "dry" treatment. Updated equipment such as a suction table with humidity dome for controlled washing, and ceiling-mounted light bleaching lamps for controlled stain reduction will greatly enhance treatment capabilities. A bridge-mounted stereomicroscope will allow unencumbered access to the full surface of large works of art. The lab is also equipped with a large walk-around treatment sink, fume exhaust system and vented solvent cabinet.
In a technical room, conservators can use beta radiography to document watermarks in artists' papers, a polarized light microscope to analyze fiber composition of papers, and ultraviolet light to observe identifying characteristics in the materials of a work of art. Microscopes connect to a digital photomicrography set-up with video monitor that allows conservators and curators together to view fine details revealed during examination.
Costume and Textiles Conservation
Another new conservation lab offers conservators devoted to the treatment of costumes and textiles a fully equipped space for the first time. It increases the space available six-fold to 1250 square feet for costume and textiles conservation. The lab is divided into two areas, for wet and dry treatments. The dry area is a large flexible space with adjustable height tables that can be arranged and latched together to accommodate textiles ranging from small embroidered needle cases and collars to large quilts. A custom-made stitching table with removable blocks will allow conservators to safely treat the most fragile textiles. Two new microscopes with camera attachments will greatly increase the documentation, fiber identification, and weave-structure analysis capabilities of the lab.
The designated wet area, for treatments using water and solvents, can be closed off from the dry lab by a set of large pocket doors. The wet lab features a custom-designed fiberglass wash table and stainless steel sinks, both equipped to deliver filtered and deionized water at optimum temperature. A large suction table with a humidity dome will greatly increase the ability to remove stains and creases from objects as well as make possible a broad range of adhesive treatments. Fume extraction equipment, including a large hood and ceiling and wall-mounted trunks, will enable conservators to use solvents and chemicals as necessary, as well as to custom dye fabrics and threads, significantly broadening the range of treatments available.
The new costume and textile conservation facilities are now better equipped to address to needs of the Costume and Textiles collection as well as tapestries, rugs, contemporary fiber, and craft that are housed in other departments.