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 Art Gallery of New South Wales, 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 Édouard Detaille's 1891 painting Vive L'Empereur!

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.

Students visit the conservation lab as part of the Djamu program at the Art Gallery

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 Charles Robertson's c1886 watercolour Bazaar gossip

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.

A team checks the 3000 notebooks that comprise Yang Zhichao's 2009 artwork Chinese Bible

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

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 Whiteley and Matthew Dillon’s 1968/1991 sculpture Almost Once requires regular 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.

Extensive conservation treatment was undertaken in 2017 on Brett Whiteley and Matthew Dillon's Almost once

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

Conservation treatment of a time-based media artwork 

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 work The Paradox of Content #4 (Orange)

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 Grand Courts