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Artwatch Revisited

I am writing to you as a member of ArtWatch International, founded by James Beck '52. In your article, "Conservation Wars" (fall 2002), you stated that Beck was "unwilling to face those who bear the brunt of his criticism." When I questioned Jim about this, he said he had written to you explaining that he would be delighted to debate the entire Oberlin team of conservators at any time, provided he was not constrained in the expression of his opinion. I have not seen his response in the Alumni Magazine. As an artist and former art critic, I am convinced that conservators and restorers have had the best of intentions for centuries, but as in medicine, "state-of-the-art" means the best to date, not ultimate or perfect. Original works of art, dirty or not, are irreplaceable. Cleaning methods continue to change. Current conservators frequently condemn irreversible attacks on the surfaces of venerable works of art by former conservators. I support a cautious approach to cleaning. Jim Beck has been invited to be a keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the American Institute for Conservation in Portland, Ore., from June 9 to 14, 2004. He continues his battle to prevent use of a "wet" method to clean Michelangelo's David in Florence. He wrote an article in The Wall Street Journal about this and has been featured in a New York Times article, "Question for David at 500: Is He Ready for Makeover?" by Alan Riding in July. It is my hope that ArtWatch will continue to police the efforts to conserve important works of art.
Lizabeth P. Powell '52
Hawley, Mass.