The interface of art, science, and conservation is an exciting place. That's what we at the Metropolitan Museum of Art discovered in June 2002 when we hosted a three-day symposium that brought these areas together. The first such conference ever held at the Met, the Art, Biology, and Conservation 2002 meeting provided an opportunity for close to 40 scientists and conservators to present their latest research on the interactions of microbes and art, and to offer approaches to counter the effects of biodeterioration.
As I noted at the time, no work of art is immune to microbial attack. Microbes, being cosmopolitan, are a threat to art collections worldwide, as they are always present in the environment, lying dormant, and waiting for the right conditions to occur so they can flourish. Such conditions include subtle environment changes, such as a temporary increase in moisture level, as well as major events, such as a water leak; both can foster an infestation within just hours. Whether this leads to serious damage depends on many factors, including the material composition of the art, the amount of water present, the species of microbe on the art, and how long conditions are favorable for growth. Once such mishaps occur, the work of scientists and conservators becomes vital, as they strive to protect our often fragile cultural heritage.
The papers in this volume detail the work of the select group of biologists and conservators that came together at ABC2002 to show how they are addressing these concerns. A wonderfully diverse group, they had in common a desire to preserve the historic and the beautiful, the skills to do so, and an excitement about the whole process. I think that excitement comes through in this volume as well.