Criteria for Treatment: Reversibility

Barbara Appelbaum
1987 Journal of the American Institute for Conservation  
The author reconsiders the "Principle of Reversibility" by clarifying its definition and by examining the variables that make a treatment reversible. Different criteria for different parts of a treatment are recommended. The relationship between cleaning and reversibility is examined. There are degrees of reversibility; even irreversible treatments should be considered in terms of whether they allow for future treatment ("retreatability"). The "Principle of Reversibility"1 is one of the basic
more » ... one of the basic tenets of the modern field of conservation. The Code of Ethics of the American Institute for Conservation, however, was written mainly with the treatment of paintings in mind. Clearly, varnishing and inpainting are expected to be reversible processes. And, when the Code was written in the 1960s, wax linings were such an improvement over glue linings that we can assume that the reversibility of the lining process was not considered in any way problematic. Reversibility is still a major criterion of good conservation treatment, one that sets conservators apart from skilled restorers or repairers. The "Principle of Reversibility" is one of the factors which establish our unique intent to project our work into the distant future. Conservators have an obligation to assure to the best of their ability that the condition of an object remain unchanged long after treatment is completed. Knowledge of how conservation materials age, how they interact with the object, and how the object responds to its environment is therefore necessary to fulfill this obligation. DEGREES OF REVERSIBILITY AND EXTERNAL SUPPORTS Reversibility is not a simple "yes" or "no" proposition. Within the wide range of treatments of which the results can be undone, there are degrees of reversibility, depending on how much time and trouble are involved, and on 1. The pulp container (see figure 3 ). Round plastic tubing can be procured
doi:10.1179/019713687806027852 fatcat:ooyqkynjnzh2dbyo7de4axq2oq