Paintings conservators support the care of paintings created from the Renaissance to the present. These works consist primarily of layers of oil, tempera, or modern synthetic media applied to canvas, wooden panels, or non-traditional supports. Scientific analysis and technical imaging help paintings conservators to understand the artist’s creative process relative to the work’s current condition. Dialogue with curators enhances the conservators’ understanding of the art historical framework for a painting as a unique expression of its material nature and cultural context. This collaboration informs treatment decisions, and helps to determine what is essential for appropriate display.

Paper conservators are responsible for the treatment, exhibition, and analysis of historic, modern, and contemporary works of art on paper. These include prints, drawings, paintings on paper, photographs, thangkas, books, and ephemera, as well as paper-based artworks and artifacts. To ensure the integrity and long-term preservation of these artworks, which are often fugitive and fragile in nature, paper conservators draw on their expertise to advise on environmental conditions for display and storage. Technology like micro-fadeometery and colorimetric measurements make it possible for paper conservators to quantify and predict rates of fading as well as subtle changes in tonality and color density to support their recommendations for the long-term preservation of light-sensitive artworks.

Objects conservators manage a vast array of three-dimensional objects and artworks. This broad category includes objects from many cultures, from ancient to contemporary, which are made of diverse materials such as bone, ceramic, ivory, glass, metal, stone, plastic, lacquer, and wood. Imaging and technical research are instrumental to the objects conservator’s understanding of deterioration, materials identification, structure, and manufacture. Each object presents unique challenges; therefore, analysis—combined with the conservator’s interdisciplinary knowledge of archeology, studio arts, and physical science—is critical for designing treatment protocols and preventing damage during exhibition, transit, and storage.

Textile conservators care for collections that include costumes and clothing of aesthetic or historical value, from the seventh century to the present; flat textiles ranging from archaeological fragments to contemporary fiber-based sculpture; and upholstered furniture. While textile conservators use their expertise to determine materials and methods of manufacture, they often require scientific analysis and consultations with curators to confirm their observations and provide additional insight on how best to preserve these artworks. Conservators and curators also work together on the fabrication of custom mannequins to safely support and display period fashion.

In 2002, LACMA received an additional endowment from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for a senior scientist and additional resources to build a state-of-the-art research facility. Since the inception of the Conservation Center in 1967, the science staff has played a critical role in gaining a deeper understanding of the materials, techniques, methods of manufacture, and technology of structure for the varied collections at LACMA, as well as for the connoisseurship and study of international collections.

The conservation research lab is equipped with a digital microscope, Raman spectrometer, Fourier Transform InfraRed (FTIR) spectrometer, portable X-Ray radiograph, portable X-Ray fluorescence (pXRF) spectrometer, fiber-optics reflectance spectrophotometer (FORS), spectrofluorometer, polarized light microscope (PLM), and Micro-Fadeometer (MFT).

The mandate dictated by the American institute for Conservation (AIC) code of ethics states, “The conservation professional shall document examination, scientific investigation, and treatment by creating permanent records and reports.” Since 2004, black-and-white negatives and prints, along with color transparencies and slides, have been replaced with sophisticated digital photography that is often recognized by different names, including technical, forensic, and scientific imaging. LACMA’s photography studio is at the forefront of technical documentation and image-based condition reporting.

Conservation photography capabilities include reflected, transmitted, and raking visible light imaging, Infrared reflected and reflectography, visible induced Infrared luminescence, Ultraviolet reflected and visible induced fluorescence, and digital X-radiography, computational imaging in the form of polynomial texture mapping (PTM) and reflectance transformation imaging (RTI), and 3D modeling through photogrammetry.