To preserve art is to give the viewer lasting joy

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To preserve art is to give the viewer lasting joy

“Just as we need to clean out our dusty houses each spring, artwork also needs to cleaned up,” says the art conservationist Kim Kwang-sup. “Extra care in preserving artwork is necessary because Korea can have vast differences in temperature during the four seasons.”
Mr. Kim adds, “Like humans, works of art go through an aging process, so we have to tend to them over time.”
On April 1, Mr. Kim, 49, opened “Kim’s Art Conservation Lab” in Sinjeong-dong, a business that serves as a health clinic for paintings and sculpture that are showing signs of age. Mr. Kim helps revitalize faded paintings and restores cracked or warped works to their former glory. In a nation where art conservation and restoration are not well known, Mr. Kim feels his endeavors are, “A gift from heaven.”
“From 1980 to 1988, I worked at the National Museum of Contemporary Art,” he says, “and from 1988 until this year, I was in charge of repairing and preserving artwork at the Seoul Museum of Art, which gives me 23 years of field experience.” Mr. Kim is one of the few art conservationists in Korea. Gang Jeong-sik of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Choi Myeong-yun of an Art Conservation research lab that bears his name, and Lee Yeong-ho of the National Museum are others in this limited field.
“After a visit to Munmak, in Gangwon province, I found that many outdoor sculptures were in terrible shape. If you compare works of art with humans, an outdoor sculpture that has tilted because its foundation has slipped is the equivalent of rheumatism. The corrosion of metal is like skin disease, and sculptures that are covered with bird droppings are similar to someone who has not bathed in many years.”
He continues, “Not long ago I saw a large landscape in the lobby of a corporation. It was stunning, but the painting’s frame was loaded with dust. It pains me to see such neglect.”
But Mr. Kim sees hope. “Many young people are studying art conservation in Europe, the United States and Japan.” It is his dream to find jobs for them, to correspond with foreign art conservation institutes and to maintain and preserve Korean artwork so that it remains ageless.
Mr. Kim says, “It is tradition to let works of art be exposed to the wind. Since spring is here, don’t forget to let paintings that have been hanging on your walls all winter lie in the shade and get a breath of spring breeze.”


by Chung Jae-suk
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