Some materials used in conservation treatments at Tate

Some materials used in conservation treatments at Tate

Tate’s Conservation Science team collaborates with Tate conservators and curators, and colleagues in other museums and universities, to carry out research on Tate’s collection.

Conservation scientists investigate artists’ materials and techniques and study parts of the collection that are both difficult to conserve and poorly understood in terms of construction and materials. They also develop and provide analysis of materials to support conservation and collection-related activities.

The section has a small number of core staff, which means much of its research is externally funded.

Conservation science and health and safety

Tate’s Conservation Scientists work with a range of museum professionals to ensure that buildings and facilities such as air-conditioning and lighting systems are operated effectively, and that staff and the public are not endangered by any hazardous or poisonous materials, such as unusual materials used in artworks (dried blood, mercury or fresh fruit intended to rot over time) or hazardous chemicals used in the conservation laboratories.

They also provide information and advice on the safe display, storage and transport of works of art. These activities prevent deterioration of the collection and loans to the collection in the longer term.

In each instance, a risk assessment is carried out for each hazard outlining the main and any minor dangers there might be as well as what would happen if an accident or a breakage occurred, how much of the potentially dangerous material is involved, and in what way it has been used. An accompanying written assessment provides advice of how to reduce any risk to a low and acceptable level for everyone concerned: the artist and his/her assistants if they are creating a new work on site, Tate conservators and art handlers, security staff, and visitors of all ages.

The team also promotes a constructive and far-sighted approach to the use and conservation of the collection. Fundamental to this work is the widespread dissemination of research and knowledge through publications, lectures and training – both to the conservation profession and the general public.

Conservation science staff publish frequently in specialist conservation literature. They have also produced more widely accessible books on artists’ materials and techniques, and research work in Tate Papers.

Tate Conservation Science department

Established: (1986: first appointment) 1992

Conservators: 3 conservation scientists, 1 Information coordinator, 4 funded researchers

Activities:

  • Providing scientific expertise and skills for conservation objectives
  • Setting up research projects to investigate challenging conservation problems
  • Increasing our knowledge of the collection through materials analysis and working with conservators to provide solutions to the problems posed