We acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the Country on which the Art Gallery of New South Wales stands.

Conserving our collection

Objects conservator Kerry Head cleans Michael Parekowhai's 2015 sculpture The English Channel.

Objects conservator Kerry Head cleaning Michael Parekowhai's sculpture, The English Channel.

Time changes the condition of all things, including works of art

At the Gallery, one of our primary objectives is to safeguard artworks for current and future generations to enjoy. Our conservators use their knowledge of how individual artworks are constructed and the potentially harmful effects of light, temperature, relative humidity, dust, insects, and vibration. They develop specific treatments for paintings, watercolours, prints, drawings, photographs, scroll paintings, frames, objects, sculptures, mixed media works, time-based and performance art.

Preventive conservation is carried out to ensure artworks are safely displayed, stored, or transported. Remedial conservation mitigates the effects of deterioration and damage. Conservation treatments are informed by scholarly research and thorough documentation and analysis. A range of examination techniques are used including microscopy, x-ray, or infra-red photography to help understand how the artist created the work. For contemporary works, conservators also engage in conversations with living artists on materials, working process, and how their artwork may change over time.

The changing landscape of artistic practice presents a constant challenge for conservators requiring innovative and creative solutions.

Conservator Melissa Harvey dusts the 1891 Édouard Detaille painting Vive L'Empereur! in the Old Courts.

Conservator Melissa Harvey dusts the 1891 Édouard Detaille painting Vive L'Empereur! in the Old Courts. 

Objects conservator Kerry Head cleans Michael Parekowhai's 2015 sculpture The English Channel.

Objects conservator Kerry Head cleans Michael Parekowhai's 2015 sculpture The English Channel

Paintings Conservator Simon Ives working on Arthur Streeton's 1894 painting, The Gloucester Buckets.

Paintings Conservator Simon Ives working on Arthur Streeton's 1894 painting, The Gloucester Buckets

Asian art conservator Lily Yang working on the Gallery’s fragile Yao ceremonial painting Taiwei, the high constable, 1857, for display in Walking with Gods. Conserving nine of these fragile works by Yao people (China) was an intricate process that took six months to complete.

Asian art conservator Lily Yang working on Taiwei, the high constable 1857.

Art Gallery of NSW education program that integrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander concepts, perspectives and cultural practices, and provides opportunities for Indigenous students to learn about the Gallery’s collection as well as vocational pathways available in the arts.

Djamu is an Art Gallery of NSW education program that integrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander concepts, perspectives and cultural practices, and provides opportunities for Indigenous students to learn about the Gallery’s collection as well as vocational pathways available in the arts.

Moulds used by frames conservators to reproduce decorative ornaments.

Moulds used by frames conservators to reproduce decorative ornaments. 

Gold leaf is applied to the frame using traditional gilding techniques.

Gold leaf is applied to the frame using traditional gilding techniques. 

Paper conservator Analiese Treacy works on a c. 1886 watercolour, Bazaar gossip, by Charles Robertson.

Paper conservator Analiese Treacy works on a c. 1886 watercolour, Bazaar gossip, by Charles Robertson. 

Assessing the condition and cataloguing a complex artwork requires teamwork. Paper conservator Sarah Bunn co-ordinates a group of staff and volunteers to check the 3000 notebooks that comprise AGNSW collection artwork Chinese Bible, 2009, Yang Zhichao.

Assessing the condition and cataloguing a complex artwork requires teamwork. 

Paper conservator Sarah Bunn checks the condition and storage requirements for the 3000 note books that Chinese Bible, 2009, Yang Zhichao.

Paper conservator Sarah Bunn checks the condition and storage requirements for the 3000 note books that form part of the artwork Chinese Bible, 2009, Yang Zhichao. 

Objects conservator Melanie Barrett working on a Margel Hinder maquette for the Conservation Benefactors group.

Objects conservator Melanie Barrett working on a Margel Hinder maquette for the Conservation Benefactors group

Brett Whitely and Matthew Dillon’s 1968/1991 sculpture Almost Once requires further conservation treatment. Over the years it has sustained damage from termites and tenacious cockatoos nesting in the timber and eating the sapwood.

Brett Whitely and Matthew Dillon’s 1968/1991 sculpture Almost Once requires further conservation treatment.

Almost Once by Brett Whiteley and Matthew Dillon, 1968/1991. In 2017, extensive conservation treatment of the sculpture was undertaken involving the expertise of many people – from timber specialists and engineers to painters, conservators, curators, and the artist’s estate.

In 2017, extensive conservation treatment of Almost Once was undertaken involving the expertise of many people. Read more about the project.

Behind-the-scenes: time-based media conservation.

Behind-the-scenes: time-based media conservation. 

Objects conservator Kerry Head installing Joseph Kosuth’s 2009 neon work The Paradox of Content #4 (Orange) in AGNSW exhibition Some Mysterious Process.

Objects conservator Kerry Head installing Joseph Kosuth’s 2009 neon work The Paradox of Content #4 (Orange) in the exhibition Some Mysterious Process

Michael Parekowhai’s 2006 inflatable sculpture Cosmo McMurtry sneaks a peek at paintings in the Old Courts.

Michael Parekowhai’s 2006 inflatable sculpture Cosmo McMurtry sneaks a peek at paintings in the Old Courts.