Allison Langley, the head of painting conservation at the Art Institute
of Chicago (where they're working on any number of works, including a
massive 17th century French masterpiece), said, "You have to kind of
separate yourself in the moment or you'd constantly be in a state of
"A lot of what we do as conservators is a little bit like 'CSI,'" she
said. "We use ultraviolet light, X-ray, infra-red, to examine the
surface and look below the surface."
Francesca Casadio is using a macroscopic X-ray to analyze individual pigments in a Vincent Van Gogh painting. Cowan asked, "What does it actually tell you, the make-up of the paint?"
"It tells us the make-up of the paint, the chemicals in the paint," Casadio said. Those
chemicals are important, because some of the paints that van Gogh used
are discoloring over time. The yellow leaves, for example, in the work,
"Fishing in Spring," are now more of a mustard color. . . .
Even more recent
pieces, like a priceless Jackson Pollack, need some TLC, although
perhaps a little less scientific. Art restorer Chris Stavroudis was
hired by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles to make Pollack's
drips and dribbles look at vibrant as the day he drizzled them. He
uses, among other tools, a vacuum cleaner. Cowan asked Stavroudis, "Do you ever wonder what Jackson Pollock would think about what you're doing to his painting?"
always. And actually, when you're working on any artist's work, you
wonder what they would think. But I think the idea of somebody taking
the time to conserve his work, making it last for posterity, I think
he'd be thrilled."
"It's a very interactive process," he said. "And intimate, it sounds like," Cowan said.
intimate. It's always funny to think that I will have spent more time
looking at this painting than Jackson Pollock ever would have."
To read more about the variety of conservation projects happening across the country, visit the CBS website here. More information about Stavroudis's conservation of Pollock's work can be found here and here.