Conservators’ Lament

Deep in the night, a small family of rats enters through the ventilation shafts of a museum, enticed by spilled breadcrumbs accumulated by the young new intern. The swift copy pasting of information in the artifact database will lead to the propagation of a typo which will not be resolved for upwards of a decade. Several boxes of newly donated artifacts arrive at a particularly busy time; they will remain in the corner for that week and be forgotten for that month—when they are finally cataloged, no one will remember who brought them to the museum in the first place. Upstairs in the gallery, direct sunlight will hit the same painting every day for the next six months of exhibition, causing irreversible color fading. Downstairs, in the library, thousands of books continue to yellow, slowly oxidizing, ever so slowly burning. A failed water pump will lead to flooding in the basement during the next serious downpour. Mold is inevitable. In the vault, a tired old journal opened too wide will suffer cracks along ancient fault lines in its spine. Later, pulled from its shelf, the spine will crumble entirely. In the exhibition room, a lady will accidentally bump a painting with her shoulder while backing up for a family picture. Somewhere nearby, the grease from her child’s handprint won’t be doing any good to whatever unfortunate object his fingers find appetizing. In transporting a painting on loan to another museum, the hydraulic shock system fails. Despite careful packaging, vibrations will cause a failure between the gesso and paint layer—too soon bubbling will be visible. Poor framing will flatten the fine indentation on an ancient print, dulling the impressed ink; poor matting choice will press it against acidic paper. Nothing is static. All things are dynamic. Everything is falling apart.

Yet soldier on, Conservators, you tireless warriors in the noble battle against entropy!

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