June 21, 2020

César Rodríguez Salinas, the guardian of art

We interviewed César Rodríguez Salinas, Textile Conservator at the Kunstmuseum Den Haag (The Hague, The Netherlands)

The art conservatotion is one of the least visible profession in a museum… What are you most passionate thing of your work? How did you decide on this career?

The profession of conservator-restorer of cultural property is a demanding profession which requires constant learning and professional development. From scientific knowledge (such as the constituent materials of works of art, as well as their present degradation processes), passing through the technical one (such as exhaustive studies of the artistic techniques used by the artist) until reaching the historical study (context social in which the work of art is developed) all of them will be the tools to be carried out by a conservative restorer when facing both a movable asset (sculpture, painting, photography, engraving, textile) and real estate (architecture).

Raised in a family textile environment, I’m very grateful to learn from a very young age the value of textile objects, being the 5th generation (after more than 100 years) connected to the textile guild. However, unlike my ancestors, my work will not lie in making new clothing, but rather in safeguarding history and artistic objects.

This will be precisely what will allow me to travel to the past and meet -through the study of materials- with the people who once dressed them as well as the creative mind that once designed them.

On June 1, the Bilbao museums reopen. Especially the BBAA, you know him very well, you participated in the organization of the exhibition “The 50s. Fashion in France”. Tell us, how was that experience?

The Bilbao Fine Arts Museum was one of the first museums where I was able to discover, from a very young age, the beauty of neoclassical architecture as well as the great artistic traditions through the great Basque plastic artists. It is a museum that has been growing hand in hand with the city, adapting to all the changes that the city has undergone over the years, making it one of the most important collections on the national museum scene.
Thanks to my final degree work, carried out by the professionals of the museum’s conservation and restoration department, I was able to discover the talent of Cristóbal Balenciaga through the retrospective that the museum carried out in collaboration with the Cristóbal Balenciaga Foundation and Basque Government in 2010. This first fashion exhibition held at the museum allowed me to see first-hand the great talent of the Basque designer and discover the beauty of haute couture, through the dresses preserved there.

A few years later, the exhibition The 1950s. Fashion in France (03.10.15 – 08.38.15) allowed me to return to Bilbao and meet former colleagues to carry out this ambitious project brought by Miren Arzalluz along with the objects belonging to the collection of the Palais Galliera de Paris.
Observing the final result, after several weeks of hard work, was very special, both due to people’s reactions and the perfect harmony in which the dresses (Dior, Balenciaga, Givenchy, Lanvin, Cardin) connected with the works of the old museum rooms.

At “Kunstmuseum Den Haag in The Hague” you are experts at Mondrian … they say that the iconic dress saved Yves Saint Laurent’s career in 1965 …. What relationship do you find between art and fashion?

The Kunstmuseum Den Haag, has a total deposit of more than 150,000 artistic objects, from painting, sculpture, photography as well as decorative arts objects. Of them all, 45,000 are exclusively fashion and textile items, making them one of the largest collections in the Netherlands. Without a doubt, the Mondrian collection is one of the most important, both in terms of extension and diversification, as it covers the work of the plastic artist from its beginnings to its end.

However, the Mondrian collection can not only be seen through painting, since the characteristic designs carried out by this artist were also transferred to other artistic expressions such as fashion. Designers such as Yves Saint Laurent (1965) or Francesco Bandini (1991), among others, captured the characteristic compositions of the Dutch painter in his designs, all of them preserved today in the museum’s offices.

It was precisely in the year 1965 when the last collection of the designer Yves Saint Laurant (fall winter 1965 collection) was presented at the museum’s exhibition rooms, along with the paintings from the conference “the relationaship between fashion and art”. Dutch artist. These dresses were presented to the press by the workers of the old Kostuummuseum along with the artist’s works.

However, it would not be until 2014 by the curator Madelief Hohé who agreed to the acquisition of one of these dresses, whose composition would be based on a white background with black lines and a red box in the upper left.

Although there are currently several museums that keep different dresses belonging to this collection, few of them turn out to be the original models carried out by YSL in 1965. However, the dress kept in the Den Haag kunstmuseum has the merit of belong to the group of originals, being precisely here, where my work allows me to study the difference between originals and copies through the study of the materials present.

In a recent interview, you marked October 1 and 2, 2020 as a key date…

In a few months the First International Congress on the figure of the designer Cristóbal Balenciaga in Getaria will be held. This first congress will bring together different professionals from the sector where the latest studies carried out on the figure of the fashion designer will be presented. And it is that despite having been studied a thousand times, his legacy remains infinite and through the study of his works new sources of information continue to appear that allow us to understand his greatness.

It is a luxury for me to be able to meet Balenciaga and present our latest research project carried out together with the embroiderer and art historian Nadia Albertini as well as countless institutions and private collectors who have helped us interpret all the information necessary to understand the creative process of the bolero jacket preserved at the Kunstmuseum Den Haag (1946).