A work of art is created, and with it, the artist’s rights arise; the work is being sold and brings the ownership of the purchaser; the work deteriorates or is damaged and needs to be handed to a conservator-restorer. The conservator will put his* expertise to it, while taking into account not only the rights of the owner, but also those of the artist (while still alive). The work is in the heart of a relationship between all those protagonists.
When a conservator-restorer has graduated in recent years, he knows all about the theory of conservation-restoration; he knows how to restore; works are his field, and the gaps in his knowledge will not cause obstacles for his entry into the professional world. However, two points have remained obscure throughout the studies: the installation in the professional life and the nature of the legal relations between the conservator, the owner of the work and the artist. The purpose of this thesis is to define the status of the conservator-restorer and to determine the legal relationship he has with the owner of the work and the artist.
The conservation profession is well organised, thanks to international and national institutions. It keeps its intellectual status through its charters and the codes of ethics, even though the adaptation to contemporary art still has to be made. The legal status for independent conservators-restorers are more or less established in, for instance in Europe in the APEL Project, and in France in ‘la loi-musée du 4 janvier 2002’ as well as in the circulaire of the taxes’ department of September 16th, 2002. An evolution for the recognition of the independent conservator-restorer is undeniable. Some hold the view that the profession practised under the status of craftsmanship does not testify to the intellectual qualities implemented during a restoration. Moreover, in practice, in France, the choice between the installation as an independent conservator-restorer or as a craftsman does not systematically favour the first status. The second status can always be chosen, in spite of the circulaire. The preference for one or the other status depends on the way the conservator-restorer wants to exercise his activity. His choice depends on several factors (and in most cases the financial will be decisive), rather than in an assessment of an intellectual nature.
The protection of the conservator-restorer exists throughout the texts and plays a role in the conservation practice as well as in his relations with the owner of the work and the artist. Indeed, the relationship with the owner of the work will be very different according to the public or independent status of the conservator-restorer. For a public institution the free-lance status of the conservator-restorer does not only appear as a disadvantage for the institution, but also for the works.
When contemporary works of art are treated the artist needs to be consulted in order to respect his intellectual will and artistic intentions. In particular, this contact between the conservator-restorer and the artist brings forth a dialogue that enriches the knowledge about the works and the artist’s aspirations.
In this situation, the conservator-restorer, who at first seems to have just obligations, has also rights. However, most of the time, he is unaware of the legal system.
*For the sake of readability the masculine form is being used, but could be replaced by the feminine.