We are pleased to announce the release of two new oral histories in our continuing partnership with the Getty Trust to document the careers of extraordinary artists, scientists, preparators, scholars, and administrators that have guided and shaped the Getty over the past thirty years. Historians Todd Holmes and Paul Burnett spent four days alternating full-day interview sessions in an intense baptism into the world of conservation science, exploring the careers of two remarkable scientists from the 1960s through to the present: Jim Druzik and Neville Agnew.
Foxes and Hedgehogs: Jim Druzik and the Development of the Field of Conservation Science
Getty Conservation Institute Senior Scientist Jim Druzik had a baptism of his own rubbing shoulders with the geniuses of postwar modern art as they worked together on installations at the Pasadena Museum of Modern Art. Trained as a chemist, and with one foot ever in the scientific world, Jim very quickly applied the latest scientific research to the problems of conservation. He joined the Getty Institute of Conservation in 1985, and soon established himself as a world leader in conservation science, always concerning himself with how the physical and chemical composition of museum artifacts reacted with the physical and chemical composition of their environments. But much more than that, Druzik was a student of the larger social and economic context of the museum world, taking advantage of initiatives in pollution research, assessments of industrial chemicals, and energy conservation, to name just a few, to make the museum world a better, more accessible and sustainable place. Finally, Jim is very reflective about his roles as a scientist and an administrator. He understands that the world of science and the world of the museum are defined by the people who work in them and on them. Science is social, as the historians are fond of saying, and the keys to Jim’s success can be found as much in his enthusiasm for the people he works with as for the work he does with them.
Neville Agnew: Thirty Years of Cultural Heritage Site Conservation with the Getty Trust
South-African-born Neville Agnew is a more nomadic scientist. If Jim’s work brings laboratory tools to the museum environment, Neville’s brings lab techniques and tools far out into the field. Whether raising and preserving the guns of a long-lost naval vessel off the north coast of Australia, or studying the deterioration of the Great Sphinx in Egypt, or restoring ancient Buddhist cave paintings in southwestern China, Neville underscores the fact that international conservation work is not just bringing the tools of the laboratory to bear on ancient sites, but also a skillful diplomatic effort to build and maintain the partnerships—between project sponsors, international conservation research teams, national political leaders, and local communities—needed to conduct such work. He explores the tension between an ideal of conservation in controlled environments versus the compromises inherent in dealing with “immovable cultural property.” At a time when the willful destruction of cultural heritage is almost a daily news item, we are reminded of the importance and fragility of the work that both of these scientists have done to protect the world’s art and cultural heritage for future generations.
Paul Burnett and Todd Holmes, Historians/Interviewers, January 2017