An intriguing restoration technique caught my eye this week. Kintsugi, or "golden joinery", is a Japanese restoration tradition, purportedly originating in the 15th c. after an Emperor was displeased by the aesthetic condition of a ceramic piece that had been rejoined with metallic staples. Since the start of the tradition, tea practicioners have often been accused of purposefully breaking their own dishes in order to lace them with gold. Whether this is true or not, kintsugi fascinates me in that it poses two great exceptions in both my fields of interest: restoration and appraisal.
"Will someone be able to tell it had been damaged?"
"Will restoration impact the piece's value?"
Questions heard daily at HFA. We typically answer both of these questions like this: "Yes."
Collectors and owners will always be able to tell that a piece has been repaired because they know the piece was once damaged; they saw the damage, they know the treatment. Although it is not unusual for some clients to see their painting afterward and ask exactly where the damage had been, restorers work between ethical and aesthetic boundaries that govern the ultimate outcome. It is our goal to return the painting back to its original condition (with respect to the artist's intent) or come as close as ethically possible (there is such thing as taking things too far, famous amatuer example here). However, filling the areas of loss and inpainting, diminishes the distractions from the overall aesthetic which by default, our minds automatically pick out and focus on. In other words: If someone didn't know that the piece had been damaged and didn't know what evidence of repair to look for, they wouldn't likely see the restoration at all.
That being said, restoring the piece will never restore the total value lost at the time of damage. Some collectors and artists alike, may consider even minor damage to a piece a total loss both aesthetically and financially. From a less subjective perspective, even significant damage to a painting can be repaired, saving the piece from further degradation and restoring partial value.
I have been using the example of a painting because it is familiar to me, but these are broad ideas. The same concept would apply to a car, for example. When a car is in an accident, the owner may decide that the car is no longer desirable. A loss of value has occurred in two ways: the car lost value due to physical damage incurred in the accident and the car became less desirable than a similar car that had not been in an accident. If the owner decided to sell or trade the car, a car that had been professionally repaired would obviously be more valuable and desirable to the end consumer than a car with major impact damage and a missing tire. This concept is the same with most object repairs.
In the ceramic world, however, there is the exception of kintsugi. The kintsugi technique repairs the damage of a ceramic piece with lacquer, highlighting the joint with gold dust. In this way, the gold joints become part of the overall aesthetic. Some would even say, it adds to it, making the piece more decoratively desirable.
"What repair? Oh, you mean this beautiful golden vein?"
Practiced now for hundreds of years, kintsugi is commonplace at Japanese tea ceremonies and with the advent of a DIY kit for those that would not consider shipping their ceramics to Japan for a traditional kintsugi repair, the practice is more commonplace worldwide. I adore this tradition for many reasons: it saves beautiful works from total loss, it restores pieces to both functional and attractive condition, and it proves once again than when life gives you lemons, you can always paint them gold.
More info here.