‘Artwork stories’: from sources to digital. Pilot project for the research and communication in museums of the conservation history of artworks

Maria Beatrice Failla, Università degli Studi di Torino, Italy, Antonella Gioli, University of Pisa, Italy, Chiara Piva, Università Ca' Foscari Venezia, Italy, Maria Elena Colombo, free lance, Italy

The Project stems from an obvious but underestimated premise: the history of art works, their secular "life history" composed of interventions, restoration, moves, sales, exhibitions, interpretations, copies, etc.., is not available in museums, or is confined to minimum amount of information (the provenance or the restoration sponsor). Insufficient consideration given to the conservation and collection history of artworks is reflected in museum guides and even in catalogs, where such aspects are generally granted limited space. This obliteration of the historical dimension of the life of art works produces in the public two major misconceptions: that their present condition is the same as when they were realized, and that the museum is their natural and original context, and not an artificial and transeunte location, itself the product of cultural, political and economic choices.

The Project can count on a solid tradition of research both on the history of museums and on the history of conservation and restoration in Italy; while linked to such
tradition, it intends to provide, along with a wealth of fresh data, critical and innovative contributions aimed at integration, research, study and interpretation.
More than twenty years since the second edition of Alessandro Conti's book, the history of restoration appears today as a continuity of studies related to local
preservation activity, promoted by the Soprintendenze, accompanied, beginning in the early Seventies, by a series of publications aimed at making modern
restorations known at large, with particular attention to historic restorations. A good bibliographic basis is also represented by the numerous though scattered research
projects on historic restorations disseminated in exhibition catalogs, even when not specifically dedicated to restoration, and in specialized journals. Finally, a series of
in-depth surveys have already been undertaken in the territories covered by the three Units.
The historical culture of restoration, when viewed through the interweaving of the conservation history of the artworks and their exhibition, can offer a significant
contribution to the art historical discipline, in the belief that the museum, the place where art history is defined by comparing and historicizing art works, and
restoration, which is a critical act and a milestone for the vision and fruition of the work, are two fundamental aspects of the genesis and development of Art history.
In terms of communication, Italian museums in recent decades have had to deal with the gradual and widespread emergence of multimedia and digital culture. Today,
many institutions are gearing up to seize opportunities to enhance the value of their collection and promote activities through forms of digital communication. The
appearance of museums on the network , however, a part from a few exceptions, does not seem to be an informed move, the result of a well-structured reflection
focusing on specific content and not just on the technological instrument. The proliferation of apps produced and supplied to museums by individuals with diverse
skills indeed does not always correspond to a careful reflection on the content information to be shared.
In detecting how behind Italian museums are compared to the best practices of Anglo-Saxon and northern European museums, the preliminary surveys, which have
already been carried out, have also shown, at both national and international level, an almost total lack of consideration regarding the conservation history of works.
The Project on the other hand considers such aspect of great interest to the public involved in the digital enhancement of communication.