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Video: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Restoring Buddhist Art From Myanmar

Anyone who ventured into New York's Asia Society Museum in January was greeted by the smell of fresh paint and the sounds of drills and saws as staff prepared the spring exhibition Buddhist Art of Myanmar. In stark contrast to the hustle and bustle in most of the galleries, the Arthur Ross Gallery on the second floor contained a zen-like calm as a team of art conservators quietly worked on many of the objects that would soon go on display.

In the summer of 2014, when the exhibition was being finalized, art conservator Leslie Gat visited Myanmar to inspect many of the artifacts that would be coming to New York. "One of the most interesting things for me as a conservator in going to Myanmar and examining these objects is that they have not been through the Western art world," Gat said. "These pieces are a product of their society and culture and have not been extensively treated. They’ve been treated as members of an active life."

Gat's work included preventative conservation measures to ensure the items could make the journey safely, as well as repair work after the items arrived in New York to reverse the corrosion and damage caused by conditions like “bronze disease” over the centuries. Gat says one of the more interesting challenges was restoring the pieces in a way that maintained the look that came with years of intimate non-protective displays in Myanmar. "It was important to me as a conservator to not make these pieces look like they belong in the western world," she said.

In the video above, Gat shares her insights about art conservation and describes how some of the objects that arrived from Myanmar were conserved for the exhibition and beyond.

Buddhist Art of Myanmar comprises approximately 70 spectacular works — including stone, bronze and wood sculptures; textiles; paintings; and lacquer ritual implements — from the fifth through the early 20th century. It includes objects created for temples, monasteries, and personal devotion, which are presented in their historical and ritual contexts. Most of the objects have never previously left Myanmar.

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