Asian Art









The scope of East Aisan painting conservation consists of hanging scrolls, screens, sliding door paintings, murals in temples and castles, hand scrolls, albums, prints, bound books, sutra books as well as paintings on wooden panels. Hanging scrolls (vertical) are called "kakemono", hand scrolls (horizontal) are called "makimono", and screen paintings are called "byobu". Many (if not most) East Asian paintings are in the form of kakemono and byobu. There is a great difference between East Asian hanging scrolls and western oil paintings in how they are viewed, handled, and restored. Although most East Asian paintings in the United States are restored just like restoration of western oil paintings which gives an exaggerated on refinement and elegance, the conservators' basic philosophy and ideas are to maintain the current of the work.


Care and Handling

In past centuries in Japan, scrolls are kept rolled in boxes and taken out only on special occasions when important guests are being entertained, after which they are returned in their boxes to be kept away from sun light and air. It has been known for a long time that sun light and air damages the art. On the other hand, in Ameria, we are used to displaying arts constantly, which exposes the paintings to the contaminating pollutions, leading to deterioration easily. The storage boxes are made of pawlownia wood, and more expensive boxes, which are precise and airtight, are custom made of lacquered Japanese cypress for invaluable scrolls. The advantage of storage boxes is that it is unlikey putting in danger to sun light and air, and it is convenient for shipping and handling. However, rolling and unrolling the arts may occur cockling and distortion.


Deterioraton and Arts

Deterioration is inevitable because East Asian colors may be natural dyes or mineral pigments, both as water colors, and white shell pigments in animal glue. Their colors are fragile or sensitive to sun light and humidity; moreover, the glues are often attacked by various bugs and vermins. Because of no protective coating, there is the danger of damage by oxidation and inappropriate handling. Therefore, many "gokusai" paintings (meaning literary very colorful) in mineral pigments including gold, which we admire in museum today, have changed, faded, or pigments have been lost by flaking. Despite the deterioration most Asian people admire toned and showing effects of aging colors, regarding as a mystery of the east.

A good example is Japanese screen (panel) painting of Mt. Fuji in the snow by Tanyu Kano, a preeminent 17th century Japanese artist. When this painting was made, the contrast of the black color on white paper; the black being in several shades of sumi ink, was very clear. After 300 years, although the ink has not changed because it is carbon, the paper has become browned; therefore, it does not look like a snow scene any more. In contrast, there is a replica of a gold tea room which was created 400 years ago in the MOA (Mokichi Okada Association) Museum near Tokyo, famous Japanese museum. Because its refinement and the glitter of the gold, most visitors feel some disappointment.


Conservation and Treatments

Care, conservation, and restoration for East Asian paintings is observed from a hidden part (the back), while much of the restoration for western oil paintings is done on the face of the paintings only where restoration is needed.

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