And what should have been done about Andy Warhol's Shot Marilyn, serigraphs depicting Marilyn Monroe? "In 1964, a woman calmly entered the Factory, removed her white gloves, and shot [Marilyn] right between the eyes," said Coddington. The paintings were repaired, but the fixes are visible, and a 1998 restorer could effortlessly make the holes invisible. Coddington argues that we should leave them alone, because even though Warhol's own hand didn't do the repairs, he implicitly approved them.
Repairing bullet holes is out of the question for Jane Klinger '75, chief conservator of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, whose mandate is to preserve and interpret the impermanent, objects that bespeak the unspeakable. "A bowl, a letter, an identity card--how these were used and how they were damaged [through] being hidden, through use, or through neglect is a very important part of the story they have to tell," said Klinger. "The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's approach to the conservation of these artifacts emphasizes stabilization over restoration."
One such artifact is an identity card with holes probably caused by bullets that killed the wearer. Klinger must determine how to maintain it in this state of disrepair. The card belonged to a resident of Lidice, a town once located in what is now the Czech Republic. After the assassination of a Reich official, Lidice and its residents, though not connected to the killing, were punished for it. Nazis killed citizens and redirected a river to wash the town out of history. Lidice exists now only in the memories of its few survivors and in a few documents in a state of arrested decay. "The damage is the story," said Klinger.
Damage done by conservation in the 1950s and '60s on some of the early Italian paintings in the collection of the Yale University art gallery also tell a graphic tale. When Mark Aronson '80 came to Yale seven years ago he was surprised to find the teaching collection in an alarming state. Harsh cleanings had revealed the underlying wooden panels, paintings had been stripped raw and left without varnish, and works were bifurcated by half cleanings and marred by anomalous gaping holes and stylistically inconsistent retouching. The collection of nearly 200 paintings had works attributed to such masters as Sassetta, Antonio Pollaiuolo, Taddeo and Agnolo Gaddi, Luca Signorelli, Gentile da Fabriano, and Fra Angelico that had found their way to Yale, beginning in the 1870s, presumably in decent condition. Then, in 1951 the curator (who was also a professor of art history) embarked upon a program of "modern restoration."
He--as did many of his contemporaries--advocated the removal of all relatively modern, darkened varnish, repainting, and grime, until the original tempera or gold surface was reached. Today these cleanings are recognized to have been excessive.
Although some of the collection is now beyond restoration, the current conservation department at Yale has recognized the need to re-restore the collection. Over the past summer they have embarked on a collaborative project with the Getty Museum to return as much of the original physical integrity and beauty as is possible to this collection. The two institutions have ex-changed conservators, and eight of the paintings have traveled to the Getty for restoration. By working collaboratively and sharing scholarship, skills, and technology, their aim is to responsibly and sparingly re-restore these important paintings.