This article is written in both English and Spanish.
Prior to the opening of Casa Mella Russo, and throughout the development of the project, an extensive network of activities was incorporated, with conservation being an essential component. Protocols and measures were adapted and implemented. Materials for exhibition and display, as well as storage, were chosen with the long-term preservation of the artworks in mind. The aim was to provide stability to the works, regarding their environment and physical characteristics. A variety of methods were deployed for the technical examination of the artworks to help determine the artists’ techniques before deciding on an approach to conservation treatment.
To protect the artwork during each phase, the physical characteristics of the building were taken into consideration. This is especially important since the museum is situated in a historical house from the colonial era. Casa Mella-Russo (CMR) is located in Zona Colonial, the old historic center of the City of Santo Domingo. The restoration of the house began in 2016 and during the intervention, archaeological remains of cultural importance were found that today are part of the permanent exhibition. CMR opened its doors to the public on November 11, 2021. The new space houses and exhibits a collection of works created by prominent Dominican and foreign artists. The core, however, is 20th- and 21st-century Dominican art.
The conservation proposals involved the drafting of examination reports and treatment proposals that included the condition of the works and their context within the collection. Special attention was paid to the objectives of the established intervention policy and the nature, variety and conditions of the materials, both those that make up the artistic object and those to be used in each of the treatments. Technical specifications were taken into account along with preventive conservation and, in particular, the conditions to which the works would be exposed after the intervention. Along with the approach determined through materials science and analytical research, the intervention criteria applied were conceived around the principles that conservation is part of a holistic process that involves aspects such as aesthetics, state of condition, interpretation and presentation. The intention was to establish a complete panorama of the artwork, each of which is always considered unique and present/display very particular characteristics.
All the measures and actions aimed at safeguarding the cultural and artistic heritage that in CMR’s holdings were conceived under applicable technical regulations to guarantee their accessibility to present and future generations. This included the selection of an exhibition system that would allow visitors to enjoy the works without risk of surface damage and accumulation of dirt, as well as protection from environmental changes. A structurally sound framing system was designed, together with external reinforcements, sub-structures and suspension systems to help provide stability to the works. This was a formidable task, which could be classified as a very significant precedent in terms of museum and curatorial management in the Dominican Republic. The design and artisanal construction of the more than 200 mahogany wood frames to enhance and protect the paintings and drawings that are part of the collection ensued. All the materials included in the conservation treatments are of museum quality and suitable for each of the works. This is to ensure their safety and longevity. It is worth mentioning that this task involved the participation of Christopher Ferguson, a professional Conservation Framer from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who was responsible for the design. During several stays in the city of Santo Domingo, Chris gave intensive training on frame design, staining, and gold leaf application to technicians at the Institute for Heritage Conservation and Research.
Of course, the protection system for works on paper, in this case the CMR collection of drawings, had to meet the expectations of the preventive conservation field. During the frame design selection, we opted for Tru Vue® protective glazing. Optium Museum Acrylic® was chosen for being perfectly transparent, but also for having anti-reflective, anti-static, anti-UV, and anti-abrasive properties and being resistant to solvents. This was an option agreed to with the curators and sponsors of the project.
The frame selection was not only based on aesthetics and how they related visually to the artworks, but each aspect was assessed to comply with the criteria established in the field of conservation. The framing also took into account the environmental conditions of the island and the high incidence of xylophagous insects that are present in the Colonial City.
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