Welcome

Hello,

Thanks for visiting my site.  My name is Christian de Brer and I am an art conservator focused on cultural objects, archaeological artifacts and modern ethographic works.  Protecting our artistic treasures and cultural heritage is my passion and my lifelong pursuit. I have 12 years experience in the conservation profession garnering a multitude of skills while traveling the world.  I am currently the Director of Conservation at the Fowler Museum at UCLA, where I am responsible for the long-term care of over 160,000 objects.  Below are some of my recent conservation efforts including materials research and presentations.  On the left side menu are links to treatment images, a slew of information about my history, a bit about the profession of conservation, and quick tips for protecting your art and artifacts.

Click here to see my Top 10 Conservation Tips for collectors

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Monday
Nov202017

Teaching Art and Archaeological Conservation

In winter quarter 2017, I taught the course "Conservation of Wall Paintings, Mosaics and Rock Art" to Conservation and Material Science graduate students.  The students learned about the current state of preservation of Roman mosaics and Los Angeles contemporary murals, they recreated frescos and mosaics from cultures of their choosing, they assessed the deterioration of murals in west Los Angeles and suggested improvements, they practiced treatment of flaking paint and damaged mortar led by private wall paintings conservators, and they visited with the conservators of the David Alfaro Siqueros mural "America Tropical" on Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles.  Teaching was a wonderful experience and one I hope to repeat in the future.  Recently, I was also part of a group of conservators that taught Homeland Security agents how to handle, document and pack art that has been seized at the US borders from the illicit trafficking of antiquities.  The training was a pilot project for UCLA, but one that is sure to continue in the future.

Monday
Nov202017

Conservation of Daoist scrolls on display

The conservation department at the Fowler Museum at UCLA was highlighted in the current exhibition "How to Make the Universe Right: The Art of Priests and Shamans from Vietnam and Southern China".  We have a dispaly case that shows a scroll before conservation, 2 complete hanging scrolls with extensive treatment and materials used in the preservation of polychrome paper based works.  The case contains examples from over 160 scrolls and paper masks in the exhibition that were part of major donation to the museum.  This was a massive conservation effort requiring all of the department's attention from October 2016 unitl the opening in July 2017.  An assistant and I gave a walkthough lecture illustrating these and other treatment examples in October 2017.

Monday
Nov202017

Reflectance Transformation Imaging and Photogrammetry training

In late 2016 and 2017, I attended workshops focused on advancements in imaging and documentation of objects and cultural heritage.  The workshops were taught by the Cultural Heritage Imaging group based out of San Francisco.  Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) involves photographing an object or item with multiple light source angles.  The images are "stitched" together digitally with software that allows one to interactively re-light the object.  This allows for excellent non-invasive inestigation of the surface topography.  Photogrammetry relies on a series of images to produce a three dimensional model.  The image capture techniques of photogrammetry provide a similar if not better output as a laser scanner, but at a much lower cost.  Both imaging methods are being employed at the Fowler Museum and in the field.

Wednesday
Jun082016

Current Research

My recent research efforts have focused on analysis of Mixteca polychrome ceramics, Mayan Jaina polychrome figurines, and West Mexican ceramic vessels. The work is focused on examining and analyzing materials such as clays, slips and pigments, construction techniques, and burial alterations.  Graduate students at UCLA have taken on the study of the Mixteca ceramics and Maya blue pigment on the Jaina figurines as thesis projects under my supervision.  Most of the analysis so far has been non-invasive with equipment such as a portable X-Ray Florescence spectrometer (or pXRF).  The pXRF detects inorganic elements, giving a good baseline indication of the objects' properties.  It's excellent at detecting pigments, but is also being used to analyse trace elements within the clay.  From the initial pXRF results, we can progress to more intensive analysis and examination, using SEM-EDS, Raman, XRD, PLM, x-radiography, and possibly ICP-MS.  We are also using the pXRF to detect heavy metal and halide based pesticides in the Maori cloaks that have been referenced below.  Click on this Field Projects link to see analytical work that was done in Campeche Mexico on the Jaina Figurines through a UC-Mexus grant and recent collaborations with the INAH reginal museum in Tepic, Nayarit.  Presentations on the results have been ongoing and publications are forthcoming with links provided in the Publications and Presentations section of this website.

Thursday
May072015

Pill Fill

Pill Fill is an garment created by contemporary Indian artist Vivan Sundaram.  The garment was part of the exhibit Making Strange: Gagawaka + Post Mortem that is running at the Fowler Museum from April-September 2015.  The outfit consists of a base fabric with hundreds of pockets that are filled with colorful pills, capsules and other pharmaceuticals.  There were 2 problems with delivering the garment to the Fowler Museum: 1) the original pills were decomposing and staining the fabric, and 2) the pills could not be exported into the US because they are considered contraband.  Mr.  Sundaram made a new base garment without pills or stains for the exhibition, and it was up to us at the museum to find similarly colored pills to replace in the pockets.   My job was to figure out why pills would decompose and to prevent staining and decomposition while on display and in the future.  I did some research and no one has ever published a paper on conserving pharmaceuticals.  Contemporary artist are often playing with new, non-traditional materials, and us conservators are always trying to keep up.  So how were we going to preserve the new pills and capsules? 

I set up accelerated light tests to determine at what exposure level the pill and capsule dyes would fade, and created microclimates of varying relative humidities (RH) to determine safe ranges.  At higher humidities, the pills began to swell and sweat, which was probably the cause of the staining on the original garment.  Interestingly, the capsules never decomposed even at 95% RH; therefore, I think it's an enzymatic or acidic breakdown in the stomach, not hydrolysis.  Coatings were tested on the pills and capsules and the coated products were then tested in the RH chambers and for lightfastness.  One layer of coating helped extend the safe RH range by 10%, so we decided to coat every pill and capsule that was used in the garment.  Once I have a little more time, I will probably write up a small paper to submit for publication.

To see a Fowler Museum produced video of the conservation process for Pill Fill, click here: www.fowler.ucla.edu/videos/conserving-pill-fill-2011-vivan-sundaram

Thursday
May072015

Presenting at the Vatican

In November 2014, I  had a very interesting lecture experience.  I presented a paper at the Vatican Museums within the Vatican City! For the Fowler at Fifty exhibition, I had worked closely with Maori representatives in assessing our collection of Maori cloaks made of woven plant fibers and feathers.  The experience of working with the Maori was truly enlightning, so I wrote a paper on our work and the need for cultural representation within the conservation field, and submitted it to a Musei Vatican publication.  The paper is being published in a book titled  Ethics and practice of conservation. A handbook  for the conservation of ethnographic heritage and artifacts made with different materials. Conservators at the Vatican then asked me to present at a conference Sharing Conservation III: The social impact of conservation.  It was a whirlwind trip, and definitly a major event in my life.  The director of the Vatican Conservation Labs and I and looking to work on more research projects in the future.

Thursday
May072015

Conservation of the Black Experience Mural at UCLA

The Black Experience Mural was painted in 1970 by Neville Garrick and 6 other African American students on a prominent wall in the UCLA Ackerman Union.  A some point in its history, the mural was covered up by a false wall as a food court developed in the area.  I had seen this wall many times before and never would have guessed there was a huge artwork behind it.  A small chunk of the false wall was removed and it was decided by the Ackerman Student Union to reveal and restore the entire mural.  I was brought in as the conservation consultant for the entirety of the project.  From the reveal, we could estimate that the mural was probably in pretty good condition with just some minor scrapes and paint losses from tables and chairs and food stains on the painted surface.  However, we could also see that they had drilled the vetical studs for the false wall directly into the mural and its wall substrate causing areas of large losses.  Elizabeth Drolet, a part time assistant in the Fowler Conservation Labs, was brought in to lead the treatment efforts of infilling the loss areas, painting to amtch, and cleaning teh entire surface.  A glass barrier was added to protect the mural and prominent lighting and signage gave it its due importance.  Here are some links to press about the project:

http://dailybruin.com/2013/02/22/the-black-experience-a-hidden-mural-in-ackerman-to-be-exposed-after-over-20-years/

http://newsroom.ucla.edu/stories/the-black-experience-reexperienced

Sunday
Jun092013

Fowler Museum 50th Anniversary

 

In Fall 2013, the Fowler Museum at UCLA celebrated its fiftieth anniversary with the two rotating gallery spaces, the Fowler in Focus gallery and the Galleria corridor all devoted to the exhibition.  It presented an exciting opportunity to showcase the museum's incredible collection, but was a tremendous amount of work for the mueum's conservation laboratories.  All 800+ objects got updated, image-based condition reports and many works received much needed cleaning and stabilization.  The rotating galleries were divided into 8 mini exhibition spaces that included Sepik masks and figures, Maori cloaks, Peruvian textiles, South African beaded dress and clubs, wooden Ibeji dolls, Chupicuaro (Central Mexico) ceramics, and contemporary artist Amalia Mesa-Bains' interpretation of a cabinet of curiosities using objects from the collection. The image on the top left is of one of the first exhibits at the Fowler Museum in 1965. 

Sunday
Jun092013

A Conservator in Paris

 

In Winter 2012-2013, The Fowler Museum at UCLA had an exhibition that travelled to Paris.  The Musee du quai Branly showcased the Central Nigeria Unmasked: Arts of the Benue River Valley in its upper mezzanine space seen in the image on the left.  The museum is extremely well attended by French citizens, increasing the audience of the Fowler Museum.  I travelled as courier and overseer of the exhibition installation.  Previously, I had traveled to the National Museum of African Art in Washington DC, and the Cantor Arts Center on the Stanford University campus in a similar capacity with the Benue exhibit.  It is always interesting to see how each venue is different, particularly the international ones.

In Winter 2013-2014, a second Fowler Museum exhibition was brought to Musee du quai Branly titled Secrets d'Ivoire and I again accompanied the show to oversee the installation and de-installation. It was re-fashioned from a 1993 exhbition at the Fowler of objects of the Lega people.