You can help Tate care for and preserve the national collection

Conservation plays a huge part at Tate. This is because the national collection is at the heart of everything we do.

Rothko Back on Display

Conservators Rachel Barker (left) and Dr. Bronwyn Ormsby working on Rothko’s Black on Maroon

Conservators working on Rothko’s Black on Maroon 1953

© Tate Photography

In October 2012 a visitor to Tate Modern defaced one of Rothko’s Seagram Murals. Tate is happy to announce that following 18 months of extensive conservation work, as of the 13 May 2014, Black on Maroon is back on display to the public at Tate Modern. The work is back where Rothko intended, in a dedicated meditative room at Tate Modern, displayed in low light levels to protect the works.

Donations to the Tate Fund contributed to the conservation work on the damaged piece. They are vital in enabling us to respond swiftly and confidently to unexpected situations like this. By donating to the Tate Fund, you too can help us to keep art on display in the best possible condition.

Treating the damage to Black on Maroon required the expertise and knowledge that our conservation team and scientists have developed over many years. The graffiti ink used by the visitor had penetrated several complex layers of oils, pigments, colourants, resins, egg and glues which make up the artwork and in some places had soaked through to the back of the canvas.

The biggest challenge for our Conservation Scientists was to narrow down thousands of potential chemical solvents in order to find the best possible solution to remove the ink. This was a difficult task; the team had to work to remove the ink whilst limiting any damage that could be caused to the surrounding original paint.

Conservation at Tate

A Tate conservator at work

© Tate Photography

Conservation is incredibly important to Tate. The team are responsible for preserving and caring for the 70,000 works of art by over 3,000 artists in Tate’s collection. This involves, photographing, assessing, examining, cleaning and storing, just to highlight the basics.

What makes conservation at Tate challenging is the enormous variety of materials and techniques used in the collection. Whatever the materials, our conservation team needs to understand their properties to ensure their preservation. With a collection of our size, this is a big undertaking.

Tate is ambitious and we continue to grow the collection on behalf of our visitors, bringing the best of British and Contemporary art to our galleries. Last year we acquired over 500 new artworks. Each new artwork will be treated to a bespoke conservation programme to ensure that they are preserved for future generations.

As the collection grows, it is vital that we are able to respond to the ever-changing techniques and materials used by artists from around the world and continue to actively research and lead in the evolution of conservation science. To do this we need continual investment in our conservation programme and rely on the support of people like you.

Please support the programme and donate to the Tate Fund today

Henri Matisse conservation

As with all exhibitions at Tate, conservation plays a key role in ensuring that all the works involved are displayed in the best possible condition for our visitors.

Ahead of the groundbreaking Henri Matisse: Cut Outs exhibition at Tate Modern, the Collection Care team recently completed conservation work on The Snail. This iconic artwork was acquired for Tate with the generosity of Tate Members and will now be cared for by donations made to the Tate Fund.

Using letters from Matisse’s assistant and the studio who originally mounted the canvass, our experts closely examined the work to compare the current condition against previous reports and images. Assessments of the work showed that it is excellent condition. Therefore the role of conservation at Tate now is to ensure it stays as close to this condition as possible.

As with all artworks, the team’s first task was to remove the frame and photograph the work. This allows the conservators the opportunity to assess, document and understand the materials and techniques used in the piece.

Taking colour measurements of gouaches on The Snail using a Minolta Chromameter CR-221

Tate Conservation performing a colour reading on The Snail by Henri Matisse

© Tate Photography

In its unframed state, it was discovered that brown paper tape had been used to cover the edges of the work, securing them to the frame. Unfortunately this tape had become acidic and degraded and was even crumbling into pieces in areas. Tate conservators carefully removed and replaced the tape with a stable, acid-free conservation product. This simple but vital step in the conservation process will ensure the long-term protection of the work.

Another way the team can ensure that the piece stays in the best possible condition, is by conducting a surface analysis using a spectrophotometer. This device monitors the colour density of artworks and is particularly useful in the case of Matisse as he is known for his use of colour. The results will play a key part in helping to monitor future changes in the paint and will enable us to keep the work as close to its current condition as possible for the enjoyment of future generations.

If you are inspired by the work that we do at Tate in conservation, please support our work and donate to the Tate Fund today.

Every gift, no matter the size, will make a real difference to this important area of our work.