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Restoration and Preservation of Sculptures

Learn more about restoration and preservation of sculptures.
© Keio University

Before looking at actual examples of restoration, let’s first confirm the definitions of “restoration” and “preservation.”

“Restoration” refers to the process of repairing damage to a piece and restoring it to its original condition by using specialized preservation techniques. “Preservation” refers to storing, exhibiting, handling, and maintaining pieces using various methods to prevent deterioration. The basic elements of preservation include investigating/inspecting the condition of the piece and managing the environment in which it is placed. Proper preservation helps reduce the need for more extensive restoration work. This approach to preservation and restoration is the same for all cultural properties, but methods of managing, preserving, and restoring pieces vary depending on the nature of the piece.

For example, there are many outdoor sculptures on the campus of Keio University. The condition of these sculptures is monitored, and surface grime is cleaned away, at a frequency of about once every two years. Preservation measures for bronze pieces involve first applying protective wax after washing, and then performing gloss control, so that good water repellency is ensured until the next maintenance.

Washing Mu Washing Mu by Isamu Noguchi, and removing blue-green algae that has grown on its surface © Keio University Art Center

wax to Seinen Applying wax to Seinen by Kazuo Kikuchi to maintain water repellency © Keio University Art Center

Exercise of Troops in a Temple Grounds in the Presence of the Imperial Commissioners attributed to Peter Bernhard Wilhelm Heine (oil and canvas, from around the end of the 19th century) is a work found due to a survey of artistic works at the university, but so much dust had accumulated over the entire piece that it was hard to see the colors and depicted motifs. Therefore, restoration was carried out including cleaning and washing the image surface, and touching up points where stains could not be completely removed.

before and after restoration Exercise of Troops in a Temple Grounds in the Presence of the Imperial Commissioners, attributed to Heine, before restoration (left) and after restoration (right) © Keio University Art Center

Wiping the entire painting Wiping the entire painting using a cotton swab moistened with purified water © Keio University Art Center

The Ex-Noguchi Room

What about the Ex-Noguchi Room? This room is an architectural space, with chairs, tables, and other furniture. The furniture and space were created to be used, and there is a risk of faster deterioration if they’re not used at all. This is because, when people enter the room and touch its furnishings, it is protected from dryness, and there is moderate ventilation. These characteristics differ from other cultural properties. On the other hand, there’s a risk of damage due to people coming inside. Therefore, we must adopt a stance of protecting the architectural space while striking a balance between preservation and use.

The Ex-Noguchi Room has previously suffered damage to its furniture and interior due to user carelessness. Demolition of the Second Faculty Building also caused problems, such as damage during the partial dismantling and rebuilding work, and deterioration of pieces due to more intense sunlight because the site’s environment changed from the ground floor to a rooftop terrace on the third floor.

In response to this damage, restorative steps were taken to prevent deterioration of pieces, and ensure their value is not lost. To keep pieces in good condition going forward, we review methods of routine management, and continue periodic preservation measures. In the following Steps, we will look at restoration work and periodic preservation measures for the floor of the Ex-Noguchi Room and the benches made by Isamu Noguchi.

*The sculpture washing and preservation measures presented in this Step were carried out by the Bronze Studio Y.K. Painting restoration was carried out by the Art Restoration Studio 21 Y.K.

© Keio University
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Invitation to Ex-Noguchi Room: Preservation and Utilization of Cultural Properties in Universities

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