The journey of art: from the warehouse to the museum

The journey of art: from the warehouse to the museum

The true legacy of art is the one that builds identity through its artistic heritage. It is not an easy journey. Assembling the artistic narrative of a society is a process that involves years of work and the participation of numerous institutions and specialists who must join forces to rescue hidden artistic works in private collections or deposits. The ultimate goal: make them shine again, healing the scars caused by the wounds of time, so that they finally become the patrimony of a people. It is the long journey of art.

The actual art collection of the Cabildo de Gran Canaria It is the result of a policy of acquisitions, donations and deposits that dates back to the middle of the last century. It encompasses a rich heritage of more than 20,000 piecesmade up of paintings, sculptures, drawings, engravings, archaeological pieces, photographs, decorative arts, videos, installations and various supports typical of a contemporary and current conception of Fine Arts.

This legacy is treasured in the different museum and cultural facilities of the Cabildo de Gran Canaria, managed by the Museum Service of the Ministry of Culture at the head. He future MUBEA, Museum of Fine Arts of Gran Canariawhich is conditioned in whatever old San Martin Hospitalin Vegueta, will be the last piece of a puzzle that began decades ago, with the aim of showing citizens the rich cultural production of the islands.

The sample 'Art Island. A collection for the Museum of Fine Arts of Gran Canaria'which was recently inaugurated and can be enjoyed until June 18, aims to 'illuminate' the path of art history in the Canary Islandsthrough a selection of 250 artistic expressions, some of which are hidden gems unknown to the general public. The selection includes purchased parts in the successive institutional processes of acquisition and donation of art promoted by the Cabildo, as well as the works that are On deposit, although they belong to other institutions, such as the Prado Museum. In this case, the sample includes several pieces that have been in island custody for more than a hundred years. The sample can be enjoyed together in exhibition halls of the Casa de Colón, the Atlantic Center of Modern Art (CAAM), the Center for Plastic Arts (CAP) and in the novel virtual environment of the Metaverse, an initiative that is launched for the first time in the Canary Islands.

The curator of the show

Francisco Javier Pueyocurator, professor of Art History at the UNED Gran Canaria and curator of the exhibition, reveals the hard previous work that the initiative has entailed: «It is always necessary to undertake conservation work and, in some cases, to more intensive restoration, so that the pieces can be exhibited as rigorously as possible, especially considering that many of them belong to recent acquisition processes”, explains the curator. "We are showing for the first time, a chronological account of art in the Canary Islandsthrough the exhibition 'Isla de Arte'”, adds Elena Acosta, director of the Casa de Colón since 1991. “It is a very ambitious initiative, since it covers from the first artistic manifestations of the ancient Canaries until reaching the years 70 of the 20th century».

Francisco Javier Pueyo, curator of 'Isla de Arte', poses in front of 'The port of refuge', by Eliseo Meifrén, a 19th century painter.

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And it is that the Cabildo de Gran Canaria is the institution in charge of conserving, protecting and disseminating this collection, "but it really belongs to the public and, in the future, it will form part of the Museum of Fine Arts", the director of the museum hastened to recall. Columbus House. For this reason, for months, the Conservation and Restoration staff at Casa de Colón have worked tirelessly to be able to show the public the pieces selected to form part of the 'Isla de Arte' exhibition. «There are 15 or 20 pieces that have needed deep restoration actions that we have been undertaking in recent years since they are part of the Cabildo's collection and must necessarily fulfill the museographic functions of the institution itself", explains Francisco Javier Pueyo, curator of the exhibition.

The conservative and the 'alchemist'

Ramón Gil, curator of the Casa de Colón, affirms that creating the conditions for the enjoyment of these objects, as well as promoting their durability over time, is the true task entrusted to the Conservation and Restoration teams of the museums. «If the object in question presents a deterioration that compromises its durability or its understanding, sIt will be the restoration teams that, without falsifying the original, will seek the appropriate solutions and they will implement them so that we can once again enjoy contemplating these pieces”, explains the curator.

Ramón Gil, curator of the Casa de Colón, in the warehouse of the museum's artistic collection.

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That is where the work of Amparo Caballerorestorer of the Casa de Colón and the true 'alchemist', responsible for restoring splendor to pieces that, in many cases, have not been able to preserve the exhaustive necessary conservation requirements throughout their eventful existence.

The workshop of the restorer Amparo Caballero has been in full swing in recent months. Oil paintings, sculptures and busts are mixed with the unmistakable chemical aroma of the 'operating rooms of art'. White spirit, alcohol, acetone, chloroform or rabbit glue are the odors that predominate in the workshop, mixed with other more mundane ones, such as wheat flour or oatmeal. These are some of the 'magical' formulas that Amparo compiles in her particular 'book of potions'the thousand-year-old recipes of the trade that she keeps in a small notebook that she fills out by hand as her experience of the profession she fell in love with advances. Faculty of Fine Arts of Seville.

In the work of a restorer there is no place for boredom, it is always full of surprises. A simple hyssop or cotton stick was responsible, for example, for discovering that the signature of the work 'Sacred Family', Initially attributed to Mariano Salvador Maella, a prominent courtly painter of the 18th century, named the first chamber painter, along with Goya, it actually corresponded to his compatriot from Valencia, José de Maea, a Spanish neoclassical painter and draughtsman also trained at the Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando. Therein lies the value of the restoration work, which can reach reconsider even the authorship of a work through a simple hidden spelling, due to the dirt and oxidation of the varnish by which it is affected.

«The work came to our hands quite badly», refers Amparo Caballero alluding to the work of José de Maea. «It is a relined piece, which means that, at a certain moment, another cloth was attached to it behind to join it, because it was split in two. It still has repaints from a previous intervention, in which they did not respect the original.

Amparo Caballero, restorer at Casa de Colón, poses next to two of the pieces intervened before the 'Isla de Arte' exhibition.

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The author's 'regrets', alterations in the paintings that manifest the artist's change of idea about what he was painting, are other curiosities that the restorers discover in the canvases in which they intervene. Maea's work, of course, was not exempt from them, as Amparo Caballero details, pointing out some points of the painting that is already exhibited in the 'Isla de Arte' exhibition.

The pests

xylophagous attacks, both in the works and in the frames, are other challenges faced by specialists, especially in the Canary Islands, a community in which insects are particularly harmful and voracious, highlights the restorer of the Casa de Colón, who has had to carry out intensive treatments, even on pieces exhibited in the museum. «First you have to eradicate the plague and, for this, it is necessary to encapsulate the work in a special chamber that completely kills the insects”, he explains.

"As a material, plaster is the most fragile we can find," says the restorer as she examines a bust of Francisco Suárez León, made by Rafael Bello O'Shanahan, at the end of the 19th century. «The custom was to protect this type of sculpture and, in this case, it was done using casein, an organic derivative of milk that is by no means the most recommended material for the conservation of plaster. Being an organic material, fungi proliferate, but it did very well to repel the humidity that is on the islands. The result is a peculiar color, which does not resemble the original, but which is no longer feasible to reverse. “Conservation is essential; it is unthinkable to intervene in a work under modern schemes”, warns Caballero.

Another of the works that passed through the workshop before being proudly exhibited at 'Isla de Arte' is the valuable Santa Ana wood carving, from the Andalusian School of the 15th century. It came into the hands of the restorer after a previous intervention, motivated by an aggressive xylophage attack. "It was practically destroyed, because it was exposed in unsuitable environmental conditions and it changed its location many times," explains Caballero.

The Cádiz-born painter Ángel María Cortellini portrayed Elizabeth II in 1854. The oval canvas was on display at the León y Castillo House-Museum and showed fungi produced by the dark pigments of the paint. It has also been necessary to change the frame, which has not been easy, due to its unusual shape. "She had a very radical intervention to try to resolve an abrasion on the sitter's nose and ended up giving it a patina that darkened the work a lot with a colored varnish." Cleaning has been, in this case, “very striking and grateful”the specialist concludes proudly.

«Before starting any intervention, sWe are very careful in the study of the work. We do all kinds of preliminary tests, taking into account the materials and conditions of each piece », explains the restorer about her working method. «Many of the works shown in 'Isla de Arte' have needed conservation treatments. We have started with the most serious cases, and we have also taken into account the waiting times for each performance, which is why we have always tried to work with several works at the same time”, details the restorer.