Reprinting as a Conservation Strategy: Collecting 3D Printed Works at SFMOMA

Emily Hamilton

3D printing is becoming increasingly common and technically sophisticated, and is utilized by architects, designers, artists, and consumers. Museums and collectors are now acquiring these works though long-term condition prognosis awaits discovery. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) has several such works in its collection, comprising different additive manufacturing techniques such as SLS and PolyJet printing. This presentation will introduce these works and efforts to develop plans for their care, including formulation of an interdepartmental working group and engagement with artists and designers to determine parameters for acceptable change.
The rapid yellowing of one work in the collection prompted discussion of periodically reprinting works for exhibition. In order for this to be a viable option, the electronic files and supporting documentation on printing specifications must be properly archived. Given that technology is rapidly changing, thorough discussion at the time of acquisition and communication with the creators regarding potential variability is essential. Boundaries of the acquisition are also important to clarify, such as whether the working files should be supported or if only the final printing file is of interest.
Though reprinting may be an option for some works, others may be too complex or unique to reprint. Gemini, a chair designed by Neri Oxman, is one such example that has encouraged further thinking about how the museum may care for these kinds of works in the future. This chair incorporates elements printed by Stratasys using PolyJet technology. There are 44 different polymeric formulations with variation in color, translucency, and rigidity, and the placement of different sections was a labor intensive process directly involving the designer. The process of acquiring this chair made clear that appropriate care requires evaluation on an individual basis, as reprinting this work would be far more complicated than others in the collection. Reprinting strategies for other media such as photography and electronic media provide a point of comparison, inviting reflection upon the practice of collecting these works.