Project Plastics – Shaping the Plastic Identification Tool

Suzan de Groot, Carien van Aubel, Olivia van Rooijen, Henk van Keulen, Lydia Beerkens

Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE), , Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

In the two-year (April 2017-April 2019) Project Plastics1, the Plastic Identification Tool (PIT) has been developed, following the need of museums to inventory the plastics in their collections. This newly developed tool comprises a web-based flow-chart and a reference kit with various plastic samples. By its design, the tool enables administrators and conservators to identify a large part of the plastics in their collections themselves at a general level. Additionally, the tool provides information needed for taking appropriate measures for preventive conservation and monitoring. The method was developed in collaboration with conservators and curators of ten major contemporary art collections in The Netherlands. To make it user friendly and applicable on existing art collections, training sessions were held to teach the use of the online digital tool (PIT) and reference kit. Subsequently these results were used to further customise and improve the tool.

For identification, the plastics are divided in four main groups: foams, foils, elastomers and rigid materials. This latter group is then further subdivided into sheet materials, industrial produced materials and materials produced by the artist. The yes-no questions in the tool guide you through the properties of plastics and assist you to distinguish the different plastics. The questions are set-up in such way that handling of the object is not required at first. When the identity of the polymer is still uncertain, gently handling of the object, if possible and allowed, is required. As last resort micro sampling can be performed for easy executable tests. In addition, information sheets regarding the different types of plastics are available providing information about applications, history, specific characteristics and preferred handling and storage conditions.

During the ten training sessions, selected artworks from the collections were identified with the PIT-method. In the case of the two smaller participating collections, it resulted in the identification of all plastics in the objects. As verification, and when the method did not lead to an unambiguous result, FTIR analyses were performed on site and the results were used to improve the tool. Besides the results of the workshops, an insight of the identification method and the do-it-yourself kit will be presented during the oral presentation at FT019.

The Plastics project is organised by the Foundation for Conservation of Contemporary Art (SBMK) and the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE). The project is implemented with the Netherlands Institute for Conservation, Art and Science (NICAS), a collaboration between RCE, Rijksmuseum and the University of Amsterdam.Partners in the project are: Bonnefantenmuseum, Centraal Museum Utrecht, Gemeentemuseum The Hague, Kröller-Müller Museum, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Schunck*, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Van Abbemuseum, Rabo Art Collection and Collections of the RCE. This project has kindly been supported by financial contributions from the Gieskes-Strijbis Fund and Mondriaan fund.