The turn to philosophical categories of part and whole is one of the most characteristic features both of art history research and artistic practice today. The theme of the fragmented or damaged piece of art, of the lost integrity comes up more and more intensively as a core compositional idea in both fine and applied arts in works of national and foreign artists. Moreover, it is not only the issue of losses, damages, patina that is consciously used to the best effect, but also the theme of reconstruction, conservation, restoration (see f.e. paintings by G. Bogomolov).
The situation derives from the typical postmodernist disposition to endless quotations from previous epochs’ heritage, and therefore, from treating cultural background as a source, and, consequently, as a text in a broad sense of the word (just reminding J. Derrida’s famous saying that a table is a text). Speaking of historical source, issues of “layers”, “noises”, distortions and interpretations arise.
Today these problems are of high importance for the methodology of conservation of art. As convincingly demonstrated by Yu. G. Bobrov, a conservator, however purist position of non-interference he may take, it inevitably affects not just the material of the work of art, but the very artistic “text” as well. In other words, conservation is an interpretation in any case, due at least to the fact that it is impossible to fully isolate so called “technical” and “artistic” conservation stages.
The problem of relations between part and whole appear to be of special importance in the field of conservation on its stage of loss compensation. Conservator’s task is not to reconstruct “initial” appearance of the object, which would be a methodological mistake, but to recover its artistic integrity, or “potential unity”. Although a conservator acts as a researcher rather than an artist, to fulfil the task he should be a highly skilled artist. Both an artist creating a new piece and a conservator treating the already existing one, have to deal with fundamental categories of part and whole.