Art conservation: The business of making art look good | The A List
Picture yourself walking through an exhibition filled with relics and centuries-old paintings, marveling at the beauty of the works. What you don’t see is the hard work that goes on behind the scenes – art conservators restoring and treating the artworks so that they continue to delight viewers long after their creators are gone.
Among the handful of art conservation facilities in Singapore that make sure artworks and artefacts look their best is Yuan Heng Conservation. The facility, located at the Tanjong Pagar Distripark, was formed in 2016. It is a tie-up between homegrown arts logistics company Helutrans and Taiwan’s Cheng Shiu University, with conservators trained at the university seconded to the facility in Singapore.
Yuan Heng specialises in the care of paintings, as well as paper and three-dimensional artworks. While some works require just a few hours to be treated, others can take the conservation team up to several months to be properly restored.
Helutrans manager Xu Weilun, who oversees Yuan Heng’s team of art conservators, says: “The treatment can be very technical or very time consuming, but both aspects require a lot of patience and calmness, which is mentally challenging.”
Another trait required of art conservators: creativity. It is not uncommon for works and artefacts to be made from a variety of materials, so conservators, who tend to specialise in working with specific mediums, need to find creative ways to restore works that have complicated construction or complex components.
A particularly rewarding conservation that Yuan Heng undertook, says Xu, is the restoration of two large-scale murals at Hwa Chong Institution, one of which is an early work by pioneer Singapore artist Cheong Soo Pieng. For the art conservators, the privilege of restoring a master’s work and preserving his legacy for generations after is what keeps them laboring at their unseen yet visible work.
Yuan Heng Conservation will be conducting public workshops to help people learn more about art conservation. The workshop is part of art events happening at Tanjong Pagar Distripark, in conjuction with Singapore Art Week (11 to 19 Jan). More details about the workshop here.