To restore or not Restore! That is the question! A thought on art & décor restoration
You sift through a large pile of things on a sunny Sunday morning carefully pulling back layers upon layers until you find it, no you’re not digging through your laundry pile, and no you’re not looking for your car keys or your missing wallet, but looking for that unique painting, print, Chinese porcelain bowl, or piece of Victorian jewelry, at your favorite local flea market, or as you are right now, soon to be looking through the products on your favorite website Artzze! Regardless of what the item is not everything you have been looking for and are lucky enough to find is in perfect condition when you find it, maybe the same holds for romantic partners, never-the-less, sometimes for better or worse someone along the way attempted to restore that item de jour. Sometimes, (not always), someone was smart enough to collect all the broken pieces and put them in a bag, (hopefully a bag that is not full of holes, yes that is a true story, but I will save that one for another time), for safekeeping and otherwise leave the item alone for smarter or more informed eyes, similar to how portions of the Egyptian excavations at the turn of the century were left alone for future more advanced generations to excavate, hopefully without the curse of the pharaohs.
Now before I continue, I do not profess to offer any permanent doctrine on proper conservation, restoration techniques, or do at home solutions, using two ice cubes, a stick, and some saltine crackers. More than anything I am offering a more is less strategy and no not like a do at home solution, more like the do not do at home and leave it alone type of offering.
At Artzze, we come across items that have been cared for like no other, with museum-level conservation being applied throughout the life of the item. Sometimes we come across things that short of being discarded aren’t because under the grime, dirt, soot, duct tape, staples or other highly professional tools of the art trade, (yes, I am sarcastic), are valuable works of art. So, what do you do when you come across a beautiful antique carpet that has had the frail edges covered in silver duct tape as to initially keep the ends from fraying. Generally for us as an art, antique, collectibles, and décor brokerage for selling, we do as little as possible. Why may you ask? No, not because we are lazy, but mostly because restoration, cleaning and conserving and all those other important things are incredibly interpretive and personal. What you may find to be distracting someone else finds charming and enduring to the item, be it tarnish and oxidation or thick matting residue on the back of a drawing, or soot on the underside joints of an 18th-century table.
Having seen many pieces restored, cleaned, and repaired over the years, we feel it best to leave pieces alone unless it is urgent for us to act now or forever hold our piece. If anything, we deconstruct restoration, taking paintings, watercolors, and drawings out of their frames, stripping back the matting, pulling tape or other oddities off pieces, so our buyers can see all the things that maybe someone else was hoping the buyer wouldn’t notice. As corny as it sounds an informed buyer is our friend. Sometimes not always, as with everything it always depends, no not about our buyers being informed, but how much we pull off or remove from an item before we present it to the public. Sometimes we leave the tape on, and sometimes we leave works of art framed. Nothing is ever the same in our business, but as a general rule, we don’t spiff up or restore a piece to sell it, we feel it is best for the buyer to determine their vision for the presentation of a work. We hope the piece is sold for what it is and what personal interpretations a buyer may attempt to transform a piece to be. We have brought to market works of art deaccessioned from museums that were published pieces in well-regarded books and for every buyer that did not know the back story of the piece they always complained about the frame the work was in. When they found out the artist also made the frame, they changed their tune, but it just goes to show, buyers have their tastes about how works should be presented even if the artist themselves has different ideas.
As a last piece of advice should you begin to discuss having a work of art, piece of furniture, piece of jewelry restored, or early Turkish carpet cleaned or otherwise worked on, and I highly encourage you to discuss how the person that will do this work will attempt to interpret the restoration of the piece. If they don’t want to consider this process with you from the front to the back, top to bottom, then find someone willing to take the time to talk to you about their process and how they will interpret the work they will do and also the time frame. Some picture framers slap tape or even glue on the backs of works on paper to a board that can never be removed, a real horror to any serious collector or drawings, prints, or other works on paper. Fine carpets have sensitive dyes that can bleed and leave a rug forever with the stains of the bled dyes. Sometimes works can be worse or even ruined after they are “fixed.” I have also seen restoration specialists spend years to fix something straightforward to repair because they don’t want to fix the piece. Again, not everyone is like this, and it is best to ask ahead of time like anything to avoid any surprises.
Now that you may be genuinely terrified, don’t be, many professionals are miracle workers, take the time to find them and ask them any questions you may have and be aware of the pitfalls. As always, an informed owner is still best for everyone…best of luck and as always please feel free to email us with any questions…in advance no we won’t share the name of professional restoration specialists that we know, as a rule of thumb find a good tailor and don’t tell anyone their name!