Preservation of Plastics is a long-term project of the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) dedicated to advancing the conservation of plastics in order to support professionals in the field facing the significant challenges posed by these materials.
Despite recent advances in the conservation of plastics and a growing number of research projects on the topic, there is still a need to better understand the aging and deterioration of these materials and to improve conservation strategies to preserve them. Therefore, this project, part of the Modern and Contemporary Art Research Initiative, aims to study a wide range of plastics to understand how to prevent or slow down their degradation, estimate risks, establish suitable approaches into their preservation and design appropriate conservation treatments.
Since their introduction at the beginning of the twentieth century, plastics have opened incredible new design possibilities for sculptors, architects, and designers. Unfortunately, many of the plastics used in these works can deteriorate with surprising suddenness. Common signs of deterioration include discoloration (yellowing or opacifying), crazing and cracking, warping, becoming sticky (as plasticizers migrate out of the bulk material and onto their surfaces), and in extreme cases, turning completely to powder.
Many museum collections contain objects made from a growing variety of plastics—plastics that can behave very differently. A number of plastics are inherently unstable and quickly show signs of degradation. In some cases, the degradation is so dramatic that works of art made with them can no longer be displayed. The degradation of plastic objects in collections has been a growing problem for museums and galleries for more than twenty-five years and is especially troubling for conservators and collectors due to the potential for rapid and often spectacular disintegration of objects with very little advance warning. Without research into this area, the problem can only escalate.
In response to these needs, the Preservation of Plastics project was created. It includes a broad portfolio of research components and activities undertaken in collaboration with museums and research institutes to maximize the impact of the research.
Repair Studies: evaluates and develops treatment options to repair mechanical damages (scratches, chips, losses and broken parts) on objects made of transparent plastics such as poly(methyl methacrylate), unsaturated polyester and cellulose esters.
Analysis of Plastics: conducts in-depth studies on identification, characterization and degradation of plastics used in cultural heritage.
Cellulose esters: addresses the urgency of designing treatments to conserve degraded objects made of cellulose acetate and nitrate. The research specifically focuses on exploring materials and methods to consolidate, stabilize and protect these unstable objects in order to extend their lifetime.
Disney's Animation Cels: this related project in collaboration with the Disney Animation Research Library Collaborative Research Project is focusing on identifying and characterizing plastics used for animation cels, undertaking studies into their degradation, establishing optimal storage condition as well as strategies for re-attaching flaking paints to the plastic surface.
Plastics in Design Collections: explores issues and challenges posed by the conservation of plastics in design collections through expert meetings, surveys and technical studies.
The research will be complemented by other important activities such as: exploring the applicability of the research for conservation practice through the treatment of pilot case studies, establishing a Plastics Reference Collection to support GCI research studies as well as the all international conservation community, developing training activities such workshops on the conservation of plastics, and disseminating project results through publications and web-based information.
The project seeks to:
Survey specific collection of plastics, both in fine art and design, to investigate implications for their conservation and identify representative case studies
Establish a GCI Plastics reference collection to support research studies
Methodically study and improve methods for identifying and characterizing specific varieties of plastics
Examining plastics properties and their changes due to environment or ageing
Increase the understanding of the causes of deterioration of plastics
Establish strategies to slow down and prevent degradation
Investigate materials and methods to treat damaged and degraded plastics
Explore the applicability into practice of research results through the treatments of representative case studies from museum collections
Developing workshop on the conservation of plastics
Disseminating projects results
Page updated: June 2017