> The alarm was launched by the art historian
> James Beck of Columbus
University...............................Interventions continue to be >
> undertaken in an improvised and
> unscientific manner. One can't understand the role of the offices of the
> 'sovintendenze e del ministero dei Beni culturali,' a situation which
> F. Zeri, in a recent interview, to say 'In Italy, art is in the hands of
> stupid or corrupt people, or perhaps both.'
James Beck is a very intelligent man. And I'd like to add my small bits of
data, because I'm beginning to think the problem goes way, way, beyond the
I'm the Executor of the estate of the American stone carver Kenneth Campbell
(1913-1986). He worked in marble with hand tools (no machines), and many of
his larger pieces consist of stones stacked atop other stones. They can be
disassembled for moving, and reasonable patience is needed in setting them up.
I cannot find a conservator I trust to repair or even polish his work.
Persons recommended to me as top notch seem to know how to swab chemicals on
bronze statuary in public parks, but not much else. The level of
craftsmanship is shockingly low, the lack of patience is astonishing. I've
been making do with Campbell's former students. Can you imagine? A person who
studied stone-carving with him for 3 or 4 years is 100 times as competent as a
conservator who's been in business for 30 years and is supposedly first-rate.
This is not an indictment of a profession. I imagine (or hope) that major
museums have good people on their staffs who aren't accessible to me. And I
haven't tried every single conservator in New York. Just enough to see that
too many people in this business seem to have minimal or marginal skills and
not much brains either. Reading about how stupidly the conservation efforts
were handled at the Arena Chapel made me think, yes, those are exactly the
kind of people I've been dealing with.
I'm not, incidentally, an architect. Simply from owning an old house--which is
150 years old and not 600 years old--I've had to develop some sense of how
repairs should and should not be made. I think half the homeowners in New
York would know what they didn't seem to know in Padua. You don't rush in to
mix new materials with old, and you always protect the integrity of the
building's foundation. I've been told conservators in Europe are better than
those in the United States. Maybe it's not true.
I've also been unable to find an art mover who's any good. The people who do
a <good> job are the ones who move appliances, and can get a refrigerator
around the tightest corner without a scratch on it. Why art movers who get
$100 per hour per man can't move and install a piece of marble sculpture
without screwing up in one way or another remains a mystery to me. As with
the conservators, I think it's their lousy attitude. My best movers to date
have been ordinary bricklayers, especially the elderly Italian guys who feel
very respectful about art. If I tell them to handle the stuff carefully and
not rush the job, they listen. The art movers don't.
So anyway, here are two major support industries for the arts. Movers and
conservators. Too many I've encountered are really incompetent. On
conservators, I guess they're not really doing so great at the Arena Chapel
either. What kind of idiots would allow the drainage for a foundation to be
blocked? Any homeowner anywhere knows better than that.
Against this bleak picture, there are good people around. Landmarks
Preservation, in New York, knows everything about how to repair old buildings,
and are a great resource. I'm sure there are equally good people in Europe
who'd know what to do at the Arena Chapel, and who'd know how to keep an eye
on things. I just don't think you can turn a job over to professional
conservators and assume they know how to do it right. Some do and some don't.