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Current Exhibit of Restored Sculptures Showcases NTNU’s Dedication to Protecting Cultural Heritage

From September 2 to October 6, National Taiwan Normal University is showing “Restoration of Classic Sculptures,” an exhibit of 31 restored plaster replicas of classic Western sculptures. These plaster casts were purchased by NTNU from France more than 30 years ago; they are the only original copies with official copyrights licensed by the Louvre Museum. After two and half years of intensive collaborations and painstaking effort by faculty and students of the Fine Arts Department, the result of their labor is displayed to the general public in the basement level of NTNU’s Fine Arts Building.

After their acquisition in 1987 under the direction of then-Fine Arts Department Chair Wang Xiu-Hsiung, the plaster sculptures took part in classroom instructions and university examinations nationwide through the years. Using these valuable materials, students copied the works of the masters and learned to sketch and sculpt. The variety of depictions include Venus, Zeus, Victory, Apollo, Moses, and other symbols of the Greco-Roman Era.

The plaster statues had with the passing decades gradually deteriorated, developing cracks and considerable mold. Weight-bearing feet had started to hollow out and wires that shaped fingers and toes were damaging the appendages through rust and expansion. One particular statue, Marcellus as Hermes Logios, was suffering a severe hollowing of its foot as if from osteoporosis. In response, the Fine Arts Department in conjunction with the Research Center for Conservation of Cultural Relics (RCCCR) launched the “Department of Fine Arts Plaster Sculpture Conservation Plan” in 2019. Experts from Japan arrived in Taiwan to train students in sculpture conservation. These students in turn mentored other students to steadily assemble a dedicated crew of well-trained sculpture conservationists.

As the conservation plan successfully concluded, the current exhibit’s opening ceremony was attended by NTNU President Wu Cheng-Chih, Vice President Frank Ying, Fine Arts Professor Emeritus Chen Ching-Jung, and RCCR Director Chang Yuan-Feng, among other notable supporters. “The history of the Department of Fine Arts at National Taiwan Normal University,” President Wu said, “is the history of Taiwan's art development. These plaster casts have enabled students in Taiwan to gain easier access to classic works and greatly contributed to the art careers of numerous outstanding NTNU alumni.”

The conservation of plaster statues not only requires expertise in the arts but also some degree of understanding in physics and chemistry, according to retired Fine Arts Professor Joseph Wang. Professor Chang Yuan-Feng added, “First, a conservation protocol was established for each plaster statue. Then, cleaning tools were selected based on the strength of individual surfaces. Brushes and erasers were used to remove dirt, followed by chemicals to eliminate mold and water stains that the casts had absorbed over time, with the final stage being repairing and recoloring. When the pandemic hit, the restoration process became much more complicated. However, it was a rare opportunity to gain valuable hands-on experience in addition to learning restoration techniques.”

Fine Arts Department Chair Bai Shi-Ming stated, “NTNU is the cradle of art education. With this exhibit on equal footing with the grandest art hall in the world, it is an undoubtedly momentous occasion that will be recorded in department history.” This great project started by previous generations of faculty members continues even now to nourish new generations of creative students.