Restoration Today

An essential step in the process of the constitution of the free discipline and profession of restorer in Slovakia was made in 1994, when the legislative framework regarding the establishment of a professional body – the Chamber of Restorers was set. The Act No. 200/1994 legally established this organisation, defined its mission, determined its scope, responsibilities and rights. At the same time, the rules and conditions for the performance of restoration activities were determined. The ambit of persons who are authorised to perform restoration of cultural monuments and collection items was defined, and it was clearly established that these persons may only be members of the Chamber of Restorers.
Required education and experience of restorer were determined, individual fields of specialization of restoration activities were provided (e.g. wooden sculpture, stone sculpture, panel painting, wall painting and historic plasters etc.).
The mission declared by law and the Statutes of the Chamber, besides claiming to protect and promote the interests of its members, but also to guarantee their professionalism and care for the professional performance of restoration in accordance with ethics and applicable laws, created a baseline condition for ensuring quality and expert restoration in future. Along with the restorer code of ethics, it was a very important factor in relation to new circumstances and new problems that emerged with urgency in field of monuments conservation in years after the transformation.
After the social and political turnover of 1989 the rapidly growing awareness of property rights, the inviolability of property, civil rights and one’s own freedom, along with a distorted picture of the possibilities of democracy, sharply reflected in the field of monument protection and the impact was and still is often negative. Lack of awareness regarding the importance of cultural and historical values of monuments and the revaluation of own rights led and often still leads owners to complete ignorance or, at best, a partial non-compliance with the requirements of conservationist. The situation is worsened by the insufficient financial support of the state in question of recovery and restoration of monuments.
The legislation was not prepared for such a condition, and this fact did not make it easy for the monuments institution to enforce societal interests against the narrow interests of owners and investors. Investors lacked motivation, and also their punishment was not satisfactory. Under these circumstances, at least the legally determined guarantee of expertise of restorers was a positive factor. However, this did not prevent further negative happenings that emerged with the freedom of entrepreneurship and were associated with ignorance of legislation by owners and managers of sites. There was a continuous danger of unprofessional action on movable and visual art creations, which were offered as “restoration” on the basis of the freelance certificates of persons without proper professional training and without the necessary skills, naturally for a much better price. As a rule, results are creations modified in conflict with the criteria of recovery and restoration of monuments. In addition, due to the implementation of incorrect technological procedures and the amateurish approach of the restorer, irreversible damages occur to the original. However, despite all legal standards, this phenomenon can be still encountered.
Despite some drawbacks, the regulation in assigning the permission of an authorised restorer, proved to be the right way. Subsequently this solution was adopted in 2002 by the new Monument Protection Act, which smoothly knotted on the Law on Chamber of Restorers and (in article 33) by referring to it, established that monuments restoration has to only be carried out by authorised persons, i.e. members of the Chamber. Moreover, it established rules governing the restoration of monuments in terms of monument protection, control mechanisms and decision-making. A revolutionary change occurred in the field of the institutionalization of monuments protection in 2002 when the institute was transformed into a specialized office, which took over the state administration. It is also positively reflected in the performance of restoration. Monument authorities by resolution assign to the owner of the monument the obligation to assign the restoration, in accordance with valid legislation, only to authorized persons, members of the Chamber, with an appropriate specialisation, and they also have the right to control the fulfilment of this obligation.
During all this period the restoration circumstances in museums and galleries were slightly different. As already mentioned, here the performance of restoration was a subject to different regulations. Although the Act No. 115 on museums and galleries was issued only in 1998, i.e. four years after the law on Chamber of Restorers, it did not reflect the modified organizational and legal situation in restoration. Although the law brought the obligation of museums and art galleries to assure the special protection of collection items, including restoration (article 6 point 1 letter B), however, it did not provide any details regarding the method of implementation, assessment and quality control of performed work, processing of documentation etc. It did not respond to the law on the Chamber and did not limit the circuit of persons who may carry out restoration of artefacts.
In reality, there were numerous restorers working in museums and galleries, who were members of the Chamber, were suitably qualified and had the necessary professional potential, however, there were also workstations, which did not have such employees, and as a consequence, their results in the treatment and restoration of artefacts were more than questionable. Overall, the provision of restoration forces in museums and galleries was insufficient as a consequence of limited financial means, which caused the failure of the ambition to provide a long-term and especially conceptual protection of artefacts.
Representatives of chambers as well as conservationist, who emphasized the unreasonable qualitative, organizational and legal disparity between the situation in the field of monument protection and the situation in museums and galleries, repeatedly warned and brought attention to the contradictory situation in the legislative provision regarding the assurance of the quality of the restoration work in museums and galleries, where the lack of eligible persons caused that the law on the Chamber was not followed, but however the law on museums and galleries was not violated. The problem was finally solved only in 2009 by issuing the Act No. 206, which this time tight up with the law on Chamber and by invoking it (article 13 point 9) it defined the category of persons authorised to carry out restoration of artefacts.
Other amendments of the above mentioned laws have not substantially changed the situation. In 2010 the Act on Chamber was amended through an indirect amendment to the Act No. 136/2010 Coll. on Services in the Internal Market. This amendment, among other changes, stated restoration as a regulated profession (according to the Act No. 293/2007 Coll. on recognition of professional qualifications) that is the subject of fulfilling qualification preconditions and which is based on membership in the Chamber together with the use of a professional title restorer (§ 4 section 4). The Chamber also has been defined in the amended Act as the body that among other things decides on the recognition of professional qualification for the restoration in the Slovak Republic and regulates access to the performance of restoration work (§ 2 section 3).

The current state of discipline in the Slovak Republic in terms of organizational and legislative relation to quality assurance and proficiency in the field of restoration can clearly be considered as very good in respect to the situation in other countries in a European context. The restoration activity is provided in three basic positions, based on current legislation: either directly following the law on Chamber, in accordance with the act on monument protection, or the act on museums and galleries. However, since both of the latter laws refer to the law on Chamber, virtually all the restoration activity in Slovakia is governed by this act and provides the uniform conditions of restoration.
In the first position the restoration is carried out by freelance restorers – members of the Chamber of Restorers, while they carry out restoration activities either as natural persons, or as legally defined entities (companies and associations). Currently, the overwhelming amount of restoration work in Slovakia is carried out in this position. Expertise and quality performance are provided and controlled in mutual cooperation by conservationist (Monuments Board of the Slovak Republic and regional monuments boards) and the professional organization (Chamber of Restorers), which disposes by a sufficiently effective legislative framework.
In the area of the practical performance of restoration, the cooperation of conservationist and restorers is at a high level, there are still some reserves in coordination and cooperation in theoretical and methodological field, which generally lag behind practice.
In second position restoration is carried out under the law on monuments protection by executive bodies of Monuments Board of the Slovak Republic, which are the restoration studios in Bratislava and in Levoča. The research component of the restoration – also for external customers – is provided by its chemical and technological division of the Monuments Board of the Slovak Republic.
In the third position, some of the restoration sections of museums and galleries carry out, under the act on museums and galleries, the professional care of artefacts, their restoration and conservation.
In addition, a smaller volume of work is performed also on the ground of the Academy (who has since 1979 a separate department of restoration with more specialized departments) in the ambit of teaching process and theses.
In recent years numerous restoration activities have been carried out throughout the whole country, from small (of course only by range, large by the importance of the restoration work) rescue operations to large, complex restoration implementation – for example, it is worth mentioning Bratislava Castle, the Calvary in Banská Štiavnica or St. Elisabeth Cathedral in Košice. The restoration is annually funded by a considerable amount of money. In addition to various foreign grants, funds from the European Union, sponsors, collections or from own resources of the owers of the monuments; appreciable financial support is also provided by the state. The state guaranteed from the subsidy scheme of the Slovak Ministry of Culture called “Let’s restore our houses” almost 1,5 million euros in 2011 and even 300,000 euros more in 2014 only for the restoration activities (i.e. excluding e.g. construction or complex restoration of of buildings where the restoration work is also present, but not specified).
However, strong competitive environment can be perceived still more and more, in which the real quality and professionalism of the restoration are losing their prime position. The riskiness of these trends is also reflected in the activities of the Chamber, which through the above mentioned amendment to the law from the year 2010 intensified its efforts in the restoration environment and attributed itself with the competence of a professional association. This gathering of powers, even if it had been driven by the effort to maintain and control the quality and professionalism of restoration in Slovakia, proved to be counterproductive and partly undermined the spirit of cooperation between the institutions and bodies active in the field of protection, recovery and restoration of parts of our cultural heritage. It seems necessary to review starting points, including changes and harmonization of the legislation in order to find a common platform for further undepreciated common approach for the development of restoration in all its aspects, not only in Slovakia but also within the European Union.
From theoretical and methodological point of view, the current state of discipline may be considered good, although deficiencies still occur. Theory, methodology and basic conceptual approaches to restoration were in Slovakia gradually formed during the second half of the 20th century. As already mentioned above, already in the 60s the so-called synthetic method of restoration started to be used, with an equivalent approach to material and form of the artistic creation. The evidence of acceptance and stabilization of this method in our conditions of protection and restoration of monuments is the fact that it had been anchored in the law of Chamber, in definition of restoration itself: “The aim of restoration is to maximize avoidance of substantive insolvency of the work and making its spiritual and content value available, all this in the utmost respect of authenticity and physical, historical and aesthetic integrity of the material nature as well as the visual form of art.” (§4 section 1).
It is extremely important to realize that this is a basic principle, which, however, cannot be mechanically and widely enforced. Each piece of art is unique and therefore requires an individual approach. The initial conditions of the restoration process are never the same, they are different in every occasion. Based on the mentioned basic principle, the restorer and the methodist must take into account all the particularities and specific characteristics of the work, its material, its artistic form, technique and technology of its creation, the state of conservation, nature, extent and causes of damage, the extent and appropriateness or inappropriateness of previous interventions present on the object, and also its function before and after the restoration, including the environment where it was and will be located.
All these are parts of puzzle, which will form the final image. Then it becomes a kind of “gateway” in process of finding out and determining how to approach each work, in which way, what method of restoration should be applied and what action chosen, what procedures, materials and technologies have to be used. In any case, the conservator must try to save and clean up the original material, including its authentic modifications (implementing consolidating and conservation processes, such as cleaning, fixing, desalination, elimination of wood-destroying insects, disinfection, changing of canvas, etc.) and, if possible, seek to restore the original form of work or its form modified by a younger cultural layer, in case it is aesthetically as well as technically and technologically appropriate. In this case it already becomes an artistic restoration intervention (completion of material, retouching and reconstruction), which requires creativity and artistic sensibility of the restorer, as it is an intervention, which will restore the aesthetic effect of the work. In this context, as a conclusion it should be emphasized that despite of all restrictions that the restoration imposes to a restorer, in the end it is a creative artistic activity, which brings a new aesthetic quality, and makes cultural heritage values available to present and future generations.