AWDB Spotlight: Interview with Green’s Art Conservation

AWDB talks to conservator Daisy Green, founder of Green’s Art Conservation, about preventive conservation, and its significance in the visual arts industry.

May 2023 


For those who don’t know, can you explain what preventive conservation is, and how it differs from restoration? Can a person practice both and would it be the same type of education?

Conservation and restoration definitely come under the same umbrella, but they are hugely different in their practices. Generally, restoration is the process of returning a piece to its original condition, whereas conservation aims to preserve the piece in its current condition. Conservation and restoration do work very closely together. For example, as a conservator, part of what I consider is how some changes to a piece can give some incredible context to the history of a piece. So, when I work with a restorer to treat a piece of work, we discuss whether it is necessary to disguise or fix some damages. My specific area of conservation is preventive conservation, which considers agents of deterioration, and considers methods in the general practice of collection care to reduce the potential for damage as much as possible. When a piece is restored, preventive conservation helps to reduce the likelihood of it having to undergo further restoration. In terms of education, all areas of conservation and restoration have specialties, and a person would need to undergo training in a specific area. There are universities globally that offer degrees. Nowadays, an employable conservator and restorer will have a Master’s degree, or an apprenticeship to give them the same level of skill and knowledge.

How did you enter the conservation industry? Where did your passion for art conservation begin?

I studied Contemporary Arts Practice for my undergraduate degree, but unlike my peers, I never wanted to be an artist. After the degree I dabbled around with a few gallery and art fair jobs, including ones with STPI Creative Workshop & Gallery, in Singapore, and sculptor Kumari Nahappan. For a couple of years I worked directly with Kumari, finishing small sculptures and developing new concepts. During my time with her, I helped touch up some of her older paintings, and was gradually drawn into the practice of restoration. I found that the practice of looking after an existing artwork deeply fulfilling, and still gave me a creative outlet. I decided to study preventive conservation because it gave me the chance to work across all mediums, instead of just one! This isn’t common in most other areas of conservation and restoration.

Daisy Green during conservation work for Kumari Nahappan, 2020. Image courtesy of the artist.
Daisy Green during conservation work for Kumari Nahappan, 2020. With permission from the arist, Image courtesy of Green’s Art Conservation.

Who is preventive conservation for, and what are the benefits?

Absolutely everyone. It is a common misconception that conservation, especially preventive conservation, is only for museums, large galleries, and heritage sectors. Anyone with even one piece of art, no matter the value, can use a preventive conservator. I think a lot of art owners wouldn’t consider using a conservator because their artwork isn’t expensive. But, if it means something to you, then the monetary valuation doesn’t matter. As a preventative conservator, my work looks at how to reduce damaging factors, which we call the ‘Ten Agents of Deterioration’. These are fire, water, pests, physical forces, dissociation, theft and vandalism, incorrect temperature, incorrect humidity, pollutants, and light. Preventive conservation prevents damage by reducing the potential for each of these factors. We can look at how to adapt a display of storage space to hold artwork without it fading, cracking, or being damaged by pests. We can also consider the security methods to reduce the potential for theft. A common practice in museums is to create an emergency preparedness plan in case of floods, fires, or other emergencies. There are many different approaches to preventive conservation, but the end result will always be a better kept collection.

Artefacts used for the restoration of ‘Untitled’ by , 2023. Image courtesy of Green’s Art Conservation and .
Artefacts used for the restoration of ‘Untitled’, 2023.
Image courtesy of Green’s Art Conservation.

Have there been any particularly unusual and interesting artworks that you have conserved? And in what countries?

The artefact that I felt most honoured to work on was the Anglo Saxon human remains located at the Museum of Croydon in London. To handle and protect something so inherently special was incredibly humbling. However the most unusual material I have worked with was Vietnamese artist Quỳnh Lâm’s hair from the piece ‘Price of Humanity’. During Quỳnh’s performance at ‘Rituals and Rebirths’ in London in 2022, she cut off her long, plaited ponytail. In conservation we often look at natural history, which includes a lot of animal hair and fur. The challenge with Quỳnh’s hair was that it had been recently washed and I had to extensively research the potential deteriorations caused by shampoo and conditioners. Could the leftover particles cause discoloration or brittleness? Or could the hair products’ fragrance spoil? Are pests more likely to be attracted to the fragrance and particles? This questioning and problem-solving is one of my favourite aspects of conservation.

Are there any particular challenges that preventive conservators face?

I think the lack of awareness can be very challenging in preventive conservation. Not so much in the larger gallery, museum and heritage sectors, but outside of that realm, preventive conservation is largely unknown. People know that UV light is damaging, and high humidity will cause mould, but most do not know that there is a profession that can extend their collections’ care beyond the basic knowledge. Extending preventive conservation beyond the industries that it has grown in is challenging, as it is for all niche industries trying to make their mark. However, with societies looking to preserve and sustain their belongings, preventive conservators will hopefully have a much more common presence outside of the larger institutions.

Quỳnh Lâm, ‘The Price of Humanity’ performed by Quỳnh Lâm and sponsored by Outset Contemporary Art Fund, 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and A.I. Gallery London.
Quỳnh Lâm, ‘The Price of Humanity’ performed by Quỳnh Lâm and sponsored by Outset Contemporary Art Fund, 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and A.I. Gallery London.

Do you have any advice for people who are considering investing in using a preventive conservator?

Firstly, research your preventive conservator. Speak to them, check their provenance and ask them about their previous work. You should always work with someone who you are comfortable with handling your collection. I think a lot of people can be put off by the cost of conservation, partly because most people do not know what the services can cost. Cost is always a concern for clients, yet preventive conservation is considerably less expensive than some restoration. Prevention is best, and the cost of a preventive conservator can help to avoid exceedingly expensive restorative treatments.

My biggest piece of advice is to be realistic: if a client wishes to install a work on paper in a bright room, chances are that it will fade, especially without any preventive intervention. However, as the collector, this is your choice. It is important for a client to have a realistic appreciation of how an artwork will change due to the elements. Luckily, preventive conservators can help tackle these issues. It’s the same as owning a premium or vintage car and having that cared for post-purchase.

Are there any downsides or limitations to preventive conservation?

Downsides no, but there are definitely limitations surrounding how some view the practice and aren’t aware of its potential. The solution to that is to continue to speak to new groups of people about preventive conservation and show them how paramount it is to care for artworks and bypass avoidable damages and deteriorations.

The conservation of a portrait of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor at The Museum of Croydon, 2022. Image courtesy of The Museum of Croydon and Green’s Art Conservation.
The conservation of a portrait of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor at The Museum of Croydon, 2022.
Image courtesy of The Museum of Croydon and Green’s Art Conservation.

Do you have a specialism within preventive conservation?

Part of the skill in preventive conservation is to have an understanding of a broad range of topics. In my own practice, for example, I have expanded my knowledge in the field of sustainable materials, mostly in packaging. This derived from my work at various art fairs, including Frieze London and Art Basel. The amount of non-reusable packaging is unfathomable. During my Master’s degree I researched how cotton ties could be used in place of adhesive tape to reduce the amount of damage to soft packaging materials. I recently also joined a research group to develop a new resource of Ki Culture, an organisation with the mission to improve sustainability within cultural heritage by not only conserving the artefacts themselves, but also protecting our environment and future.  The foundation of conservation is to protect and preserve, and I feel this should run through as many of our practices as possible.

In what areas of art is preventive conservation most relevant or needed?

As a preventive conservator, I feel that it is relevant in all areas of art ownership, collection, or any space which has art where the owner wishes to extend the level of care. Collectors of vulnerable pieces of work, such as paper, may already be aware that their pieces need protection, and the same goes for particularly old pieces of work. I believe that where preventive conservation can be most relevant is at the acquisition stage of a piece of work. To be able to have a conservator assess a collection and advise on methods to reduce damage from the offset is an incredibly valuable service that I hope more collectors will normalise. There will always be brilliant restorers who will be able to fix damages, but no one wants to see a piece of art neglected and subsequently damaged, especially when it could have been avoided in the first place.

What are the common roles or tasks of an art preventive conservator?

I’ve mentioned the ten agents of deterioration, and a lot of our work revolves around that. Some projects can be more interventive in terms of managing a collector’s space, such as installing UV protection and controlling other environmental factors including humidity, temperature, and air pollutants. Condition auditing, or condition checking individual pieces of artwork, are also popular services. This practice is typical in museums and galleries who have a conservation department and is equally beneficial for private collectors. A condition audit allows us to document the condition of a work, including any deteriorations or previous damages, which can then be referred to in the future to track any changes. This in turn will help us identify any issues in the space, or possibly with handling, which need to be solved. It is also important to remember that every art collection is unique and presents its own challenges, so work is never boring or the same. In addition, part of the excitement with being a conservator in the UK is the community of conservators who are constantly sharing research and ideas to grow the industry.

For those looking to enter the industry, is there a big demand for conservators? Which types of organisations generally need conservators? 

Heritage, namely the National Trust organisation in the UK, are big employers for  conservators, as well as large museums and galleries such as the Tate and British Museum, and the royal palaces. A lot of my work is with clients in Singapore where most conservators, in my experience, are involved with the Heritage Conservation Centre. There are also conservators who work with private collectors. A lot of specialties within conservation have been based around traditional art forms such as painting, paper, ceramics, gilt framing, and even buildings. With the ongoing introduction of new materials in the art industry, it is inevitable that these newer works will eventually also start to deteriorate and succumb to damage, creating new and exciting opportunities within the contemporary art conservation space.

One final question for you, Daisy: if you could be a fly on the wall of any artists’ studio, present or past, who would it be and why?

Banksy. I love the balance of humour and political and social messages in Banksy’s works, and how they have created so much conversation and controversy. And he, she, or they, creates work in plain sight, as was seen in his artwork on the London Underground in 2020, which I think is simply fantastic. So yes, Banksy’s studio would be my ultimate observatory.


For more information about Green’s Art Conservation and the services they offer, please visit Green’s Art Conservation

AWDB Spotlights consist of original content created by the AWDB team for the visual arts community at large.