One of the most important pieces by Picasso is in “a very poor state of conservation and it has suffered important, even irreversible damage like the weakening and rupture of fibers,” according to Pilar Sedano, a representative of the group of 33 professionals from the most important museums and cultural institutions around the world that analyzed the conservation of Picasso’s Guernica in 1998 at the Reina Sofía Museum.
In 2012, the Reina Sofía launched a research project entitled Viaje al interior del Guernica (A journey inside Guernica), which consisted in a 30 x 12 feet computer-controlled robot that moved in front of the painting. Over 24,000 HD photographs were taken with natural, ultraviolet and infrared lighting.
The robot’s mechanism moved in front of the painting with a precision of 25 microns. Several cameras and sensors inserted into the robot’s mechanism captured data and images with a great precision: visible light, multispectral infrared, UV, 3D scans, spectral reflectance, etc.
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In this way, a large amount of information was amassed without touching the painting, thus offering the public and the scientific community with a deep knowledge about the materials and unknown imaging techniques of a piece that is fundamental to 20th century history.
On August 28th, 2012, the end of the data collection phase with the robot was declared an it was removed from Guernica’s hall.
Rolling and unrolling the painting has cause it great damage
Over the years, rolling and unrolling the painting has caused it great damage, but everything suggests that Guernica will be restored. The head of the Reina Sofía Museum, Manuel Borja-Villel, confesses that he wasn’t sure about it. Anny Aviram, a restoration veteran at MoMa who specializes in Picasso, delivered Guernica’s original canvas to the Spanish museum, which was found at the deposits at MoMa. “In the 70s a preventive restoration was carried out for the rusted varnishes. When Guernica returned to Spain in 1981, it was revarnished to protect the canvas because the painting had been rolled up. Thus far, we hadn’t dared to remove the varnishes, but now it can be done without even touching the painting.”
New conservation techniques
First, a series of test will be administered. “The work will be done little by little, without even moving the painting and only removing the varnishes so that Guernica recovers all its nuances. The painting has become flatter. The lost of paint will not be reapplied. I had to be persuaded about this. The painting is so important you can’t do anything to it unless you are 100 percent sure because no one has the right of endangering an iconic piece,” Borja-Villel warned. “Not everyone dares to do it. A not so far-fetched example would be how the Louvre doesn’t touch La Gioconda in case it loses its enigmatic smile and because of the millions of fans that visit it each year.”