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January 13, 1995 - Image 114

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1995-01-13

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

The Fine Art Of Healing
Damaged Paintings

FRANK PROVENZANO "ECIAL TO THE JEWISH NEWS

T

wenty years ago, Kenneth
Katz transferred from a
pre-med program to an art
history curriculum. It was
more of a change of mind than a
change of heart. Since then, he
has remained focused on the
place where medicine and art in-
tersect — the realm of healing.
Today, Mr. Katz, an art con-
servator, goes about his work
with the earnestness of a physi-
cian living by the Hippocratic

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RECENT PAINTINGS

UNTIL JAN. 21, 1995

DAVID KLEIN GALLERY

430 North Woodward
Birmingham MI 48009
Telephone 810.433.3700
Fax 810.433.3702

ple, has been given a sort of spa
treatment: the dirt has been re-
moved and a few touch-ups on his
fancy shirt give the "man of
truth" a fresh look.
The full-length portrait of for-
mer Michigan Gov. Russell A. Al-
ger, on leave from its place in the
State Capitol, awaits a fresh coat
of varnish.
Mr. Katz already has met
many of the portraits of Gov. Al-
ger's colleagues. In the summer
of 1991, Mr. Katz was
called to assist in the
restoration of the State
Capitol. In fact, he played
a key role in conserving the
original paint in the gov-
ernor's office where he
worked on a scaffold, in-
jecting adhesives into the
paint on the 30-foot high
ceilings.
"It's an old European

Oath. Since 1991 his busi-
ness, Conservation and Mu-
seum Services, has been an
infirmary for paintings from
public and private collections
that have suffered the slings
and arrows of time, such as
heat, humidity and acci-
dents.
In art conservation, vital
signs take on a different di-
mension. Paint is blood. Can-
vas is the skin and bones.
The less threatening mal-
adies appear as a surface
build-up of dirt, grime and
soot. The more serious dis-
eases are torn canvases, bro-
ken frames. And, of course,
the menacing sight of flak-
ing paint.
But like his physician
brethren, the ultimate goal
for Mr. Katz, who lives in
Huntington Woods, is never
to harm the patient.
"My goal is to return a
painting to its original in-
tegrity," he said — which means
returning a painting to the con-
dition that reflects the artist's in-
tent.
With that type of approach,
Conservation and Museum Ser-
vices seems like a repair shop for
aesthetic reconditioning.
The gallant portrait of George
Washington, which hung in the
lobby of Detroit's Masonic Tem-

feel," he said. "It might not be
bright and clean, but it's the orig-
inal."
In his spacious Greektown stu-
dio, Mr. Katz and his four-person
staff combine science and chem-
istry with a historical apprecia-
tion of the artist's touch. Some
paintings are X-rayed, while oth-
ers are examined under a micro-
scope. Then again, some of the

needed repairs are evident to the
naked eye — canvases with fist-
size holes and flaking paint the
size of feathers.
To conserve the artist's origi-
nal work, Mr. Katz typically stud-
ies the artist's many paintings,
along with writings, diaries and
correspondence. -
"Working with the paintings
you come to know the artist," he
said.
Quite often, there is a story be-
neath the surface. Like the time
a painting was cleaned only to re-
veal the artist's name, Gerome,
a well-known French artist. Or,
the time a painting, featuring
three buxom American women,
was cleaned, and beneath the top
layer of paint was the original —
three ethnic Italian women. (Per-
haps a case of politically correct
art, since the painting hung in
the halls of an exclusive local
club.)
The reconditioning is per-
formed in the type of solitude that
created the painting. There is a
sense that the paintings hold a
sacredness, a history that
shouldn't be tampered with.

"We never intrinsically change
these paintings," Mr. Katz said.
In addition to reconditioning
paintings, Conservation and Mu-
seum Services restores frames
and is just getting into paper and
porcelain conservation.
Although restoration of paint-
ings dates back to the 18th cen-
tury, it wasn't until the 1930s
that conservators began to es-

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