Student Conservators at Melbourne

2013 Keith Haring

Il Problema Conservativo Dell’opera di Keith Haring a Melbourne

  Keith Haring in front of his Collingwood mural, 1984 / Photograph by Polly Borland (via  ACCA )

  Keith Haring in front of his Collingwood mural, 1984 / Photograph by Polly Borland (via ACCA)


5 september 2013

By Meghan Ellis

Antonio Rava’s recent lecture at Melbourne University on the treatment of Keith Haring’s 1984 Collingwood mural delved into key issues in contemporary conservation practice. Sharing his experience with students and conservation professionals from the Melbourne community, Rava’s lecture focused on both the materials science of treatment and the theoretical dilemmas surrounding the piece.

Rava identified the complexity of treating Haring’s mural, describing the treatment as a process of problem-solving – negotiating the wishes of the community, the city of Melbourne and the intentions of the artist (now defined by the Keith Haring Foundation, NY). Haring’s infamy as an established international artist, combined with documentation from diary entries signalling the Collingwood mural as a departure from his ephemeral works destined the complicated restoration of this particular piece. Rava’s research into Haring’s materials and intentions in creating a work of public art formed an important component of conservation decisions: the highly expressionistic piece, with its vibrant lines and colours was discussed as bypassing language, a creation for the community.

After treatment, from left: Filippo Rava, Heidi Victoria, Antonio Rava / Photograph by  Lovell Chen

After treatment, from left: Filippo Rava, Heidi Victoria, Antonio Rava / Photograph by Lovell Chen

Systematic photo documentation, condition reports and treatment descriptions were utilized in conjunction to original footage and photographs of the mural. Rava’s close study of the artist’s handling of his brush in slow yet fluid movements was integral to treatment; conservation of the piece centred on respecting and maintaining Haring’s intentions. The removal of titanium dioxide deposits on the surface of the background of the mural (a white efflorescence before treatment) revealed a bright, yellow surface close to the original.  Most evident were the faded red brushstrokes which were treated by application of a colour-matched glaze bound with an acrylic emulsion, sufficiently transparent to still observe the effortless movements of the original lines. The application of this glaze also serves as a protective barrier to the original.

Before treatment in August 2014 / Photograph by Meghan Ellis

Drawing on the ideas of Italian theorist Cesare Brandi, Rava discussed conservation of the mural as a mediation between reinforcing visibility of the piece for the community’s needs and retaining the meaning of the mural.  Brandi posits artworks in his Theory of Restoration (1963) as a division of the material and the idea; conservation for Brandi is preservation of the values of an artwork, at times not the material itself. For Keith Haring’s mural, any treatment must enquire as to what the material (in the Brandian sense) is that must be preserved. Value as determined by the community and the significance of the mural on an international scale fortified Rava’s decision-making process, balanced with an intimate knowledge and understanding of Haring’s materials and their degradation.

Antonio Rava was born in Torino, 1952. Having studied restoration at the I'lstituto Centrale per il Restauro in Rome, Rava addressed contemporary art conservation through a Fullbright scholarship at New York University in 1979. Returning to Italy, Rava has since worked with Italian and international institutions, including the Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna and the Accademia Albertina to promote interdisciplinary and collaborative conservation projects.