Analysis of Plastics

A team of GCI scientists is undertaking in-depth analytical studies on plastics used in cultural heritage, focusing on their identification and characterization, degradation, and preservation. These studies are conducted using an extended range of analytical instrumentation available at the GCI.

The team has carried out a methodical study of the analytical techniques scientists can use to identify the many types of plastics used in cultural heritage and has evaluated the abilities and limitations of both non-invasive and invasive techniques and established a range of analytical procedures for the identification of plastics. Identifying plastics used in artworks is the first step toward understanding how these artworks will respond to specific environmental conditions and ultimately how they can best be conserved.

Much of the work of this component was performed as part of a consortium of European institutions and laboratories through the POPART project. This work is also reflected in the GCI's collaborative research project Disney Animation Cels in which, in addition to identifying and characterizing plastics, is undertaking in-depth studies into the degradation of cellulose acetate (CA) and cellulose nitrate (CN) cels and their optimal storage condition.

Due to the presence in museum collections of many unstable works of art made with these plastics and the urgency of preserving them, the analysis into the degradation of CA and CN has been currently extended to tridimensional objects within the Cellulose Esters research component. Analysis of plastics are also undertaken within the Repair Studies component in order to assess the suitability of the repair materials and methods investigated as well as their compatibility to the plastics.

Other GCI projects building on this analytical work include Art in LA, which investigated plastics and resins used by Finish Fetish artists featured in the Pacific Standard Time: Art in Los Angeles 1945–1980 exhibition in 2011.

Page updated: June 2017