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Author Topic:   When museums do bad things

Posts: 4121
Registered: Apr 99

iconnumber posted 01-12-2001 03:10 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for wev     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I was lately in San Francisco and stopped by the Legion of Honor Museum, long one of my favorites. In addition to the fine paintings and furniture, it has a nice collection of mediaeval French, German, and Flemish silver that has recently been re-installed. I was shocked to see that the pieces have now been polished to a mirror finish. One piece in particular, a delicate 14 century Flemish chalise I remembered well, had been buffed with such enthusiasm that its fine line engraving is now practicaly unreadable. It shone with all the warmth of a chrome plated bumper. I could not find out who had decided such treatment was nessesary or why, though I was told by a docent that she thought "most people like shiny things." I can only hope that bowing to the vox populi has not been adopted as a general criteria of curation.

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Scott Martin
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Posts: 11520
Registered: Apr 93

iconnumber posted 01-12-2001 10:41 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Scott Martin     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
See related post in the Ask A Curator forum entitled Exhibitions - cleaning & polishing

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Posts: 4121
Registered: Apr 99

iconnumber posted 01-12-2001 10:59 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for wev     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I had noted that post and its balanced response. This, however, was polishing beyond the pale, polishing raised to the level of child abuse. I am used to seeing silver in a variety of states in a variety of museums -- the Huntington's fine collection of English silver uniformally dingy, like a cherished old tweed coat; the LA County collection of monumental silver consistantly (and surprisingly, given the proximity to Hollywood) fine and mellow in surface. The Legion pieces looked for all the world like crumpled tin foil: glinty, cheap, and starved of life.

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June Martin
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Posts: 1326
Registered: Apr 93

iconnumber posted 01-13-2001 08:20 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for June Martin     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
My goodness ..... There ought to be a law.
eek eek eek eek

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Ulysses Dietz

Posts: 1265
Registered: May 99

iconnumber posted 01-16-2001 09:31 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Ulysses Dietz     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I don't know the silver collection at the Palace of the Legion of Honor (they're the European dec. arts part of the San Francisco Museums, right?)but I can assure you know that conservation standards are not set based on public desire to see shiny things. Unless the staff at the PofLH are total idiots, and unless they have no conservation advice, my only comment is that you should write to that museum and ask about the piece--and give them a chance to speak for themselves. You may not personally like a mirror finish, but that does not mean that a) a mirror finish is wrong, or b) that the museum staff achieved that finish in an inappropriate way. Historically, silver, even medieval silver, was meant to be as brilliant and shiny as it could be; it is an entirely modern prejudice to want silver to be dull or even "mellow." Pewter, two, was originally brilliantly polished, to imitate silver; the love of soft dove-grey pewter is purely antiquarian, and has nothing to do with its original look.

What I hate is the brilliant shine of silver that has been put on the buffing wheel--but I can't imagine any curator or convservator in a reputatable museum doing that to anything. If the P of the L of H actually did this, it is indeed a bad thing. But all I've heard proven so far is a difference in taste. No trial without evidence.

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