The Conservation Department of Die Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum is pleased to announce this international 2-year research project.

+ Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles
+ Wende Museum, Los Angeles
+ TH Köln – Cologne Institute of Conservation Sciences, Cologne

The preservation of plastic objects poses a difficult challenge for conservators. The research into conservation of plastic objects, a relatively young discipline, which only emerged in the 1990s, has been primarily focused on the identification of plastics, their degradation and possible conservation and restoration methods. What has hardly been taken into account so far, however, is the extent to which industrial production processes and manufacturing technologies influence both the long-term properties of plastics and their aging.
The present research project specifically deals with the identification of production processes and technologies for plastic materials that were used in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) between 1949 and 1990 for the production of industrial design, their degradation and possible preventive and active measures.
On the one hand, the focus was placed on the GDR, because this was a closed cultural and economic period, and on the other, because the plastic production in the GDR was ground-breaking. Since the 1950s, the GDR developed into one of the leading plastics-producing nations, which exported its products to almost all countries of the Eastern Bloc and even to the West via veiled channels.

So far, conservation science has mainly focused on the influence of chemical profile of a plastic on its degradation. The influences of the manufacturing conditions on aging properties have been largely neglected. Although the engineering sciences collect relevant data as part of quality assurance, there are few or no interfaces between the two disciplines (conservation sciences / engineering). The present project aims to close this gap and through a systematic investigation and assessment of a temporally and geographically closed area to clarify this connection, to identify and characterize materials and to generate treatment recommendations from the collected data.
The project is accompanied by an expert meeting and a concluding specialist conference. The research results will be published internationally (Getty Conservation Institute series of publications) and presented in an exhibition (Wende Museum, Los Angeles / Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich; working title: ‘House of Plastics’). Part of the cooperation project is the doctoral thesis by Helena Ernst: “Material memory: How are signs of manufacturing, usage and ageing related to the respective material properties and what can be revealed by reading those traces” (working title).

In this research project, two of the most important and comprehensive collections in this field are examined, measured and compared. The Wende Museum in Los Angeles and Die Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum, Munich have several thousand GDR plastic objects in their collections that overlap with everyday GDR culture. A systematic examination and assessment of these objects will take place at both locations and promises new findings both with regard to the production history and to the material use and aging. The Getty Conservation Institute systematically and analytically accompanies these investigations and provides significant support with its expertise in the field of plastic conservation and identification. The fourth cooperation partner is the TH Köln – Cologne Institute of Conservation Sciences, which was involved in a RESEARCH PROJECT on the subject of GDR plastics from 2009 – 2011. They essentially researched and documented the socio-historical background of plastic production in the GDR.
Professor Friederike Waentig, reknowned in this field, will incorporate the knowledge gained there into the current project and contribute her experience and skills in the areas of plastic restoration. Dr. Ester Ferreira, Professor of applied natural sciences in conservation at TH Köln since 2016, will bring her expertise in the mass spectrometric analysis of organic materials.

Getty Conservation Institute (GCI)
Tom Learner (Head of Science)
Odile Madden (Senior Scientist)
Anna Laganà (Senior Research Specialist)

Wende Museum
Joes Segal (Chief Curator)
Christine Rank (Head of Collections)
Janine Köppen (Project Conservator)

Cologne Institute of Conservation Sciences
Friederike Waentig (Professor Conservation)
Ester Ferreira (Professor Conservation Science)

Die Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum
Tim Bechthold (Head of Conservation)
Josef Strasser (Chief Curator)
Helena Ernst (Project Conservator/ PhD candidate)