Art conservation laboratories are often described as balancing the functions of an art studio, a forensic laboratory, and an environmental monitoring unit. Conservators, like those at the Roberto M. Lopez Conservation Center, examine, analyze, and treat artworks using x-ray equipment, polarizing microscopes (for pigment and fiber analyses), suction tables (for paintings), leaf casting machines (for book conservation), and much more. Following a strict code of ethics, the main function of conservators is to preserve and/or restore art works (as well as the information they contain) to their most authentic state. Conservators also try to understand the works’ physical and chemical conditions, art historical contexts, and cultural significance.
The Roberto M. Lopez Conservation Center technical staff, adhering to these tenets and to a “less-is-more” policy in their interventions, uses only scientifically-proven reversible methods of treatment and materials. Initiated in 2000 under the consultancy of chemist-conservator Maria Bernadita (Maita) Maronilla-Reyes, the laboratory now employs four laboratory assistants, a chemist consultant, an artist consultant, and a pigment analyst. It has also taken on an intern of materials science from the University of British Columbia in Canada. Aside from its work on paintings, paper, sculpture, and frames, the center also organizes an annual series of workshops that tackles contemporary conservation issues and finds useful grounds of cooperation among colleagues from other institutions.
The center was named after Roberto “Robie” M. Lopez (28 August 1950 — 26 September 1992), patron of Philippine art and an important benefactor of the museum. Placing science at the service of art, his vision and bequest led to the purchase of important laboratory equipment in 2005. The center offers a special fumigation area to deal with problems specific to hot, humid environments, like molds and acid attack on artworks and books. In tandem with funds from a private foundation, the center continues to support scientific research, the digitization of about 3 million images in the library, and conservation services for the growing needs of public institutions and private collectors.