Mark Leonard, formerly of the Getty in L.A., outside the Paintings Conservation Studio at the Founders Room inside the DMA. It officially opens to the public Nov. 22.

Almost since I moved to Dallas and began working Downtown, an upper-floor space of the Dallas Museum of Art was 1717 Restaurant. Back in the day, it was one of the trendiest places in Dallas for lunch (it wasn’t opened for dinner), but all things end. It went through a number of iterations and changes, and for the last 18 months or so has largely been an event space for cocktail parties, but not a true restaurant. And now even that is gone.

And what’s in its place is even better.

What was 1717 is now an exhibit and social space, but most importantly, an atelier where the DMA’s head of conservation, Mark Leonard, gets to give the public an idea of what he and his fellow art restorers do.

The entrance is The Conservation Gallery, a rotating exhibit of artwork that has often been confined to the storage space at the DMA. These rarely seen works all have one thing in common: They have been restored, or are in need of restoration. And that gives the viewing public a chance to see a kind of before-and-after.

Not only that, most of the pieces will be exhibited so that both the fronts and back of the paintings are visible, offering a glimpse into the creative process — how the artist started on one idea, flipped the canvas over, and started on a whole new one.


The restoration room.

But the most exciting part of all is the Paintings Conservation Studio. Designed by Samuel Anderson, it adds skylights permitting natural light to flood the studio, where Leonard and his team bring new life to Old Masters. The space is equipped with a first-of-its-kind x-ray that allows conservationists to see below the top level of oil paint to the art below. And while the general public won’t be allowed to enter the studio (there’s not a lot of room, except to make mischief), I got a first-look at it and the entire space, and it’s very impressive.

The Conservation Gallery and Founders Room will open to the public on Friday. Like the rest of the general exhibits at the DMA, admission is free.