The seating combination Leonardo was designed by the Italian design group Studio 65 in 1969. The object has been part of the collection of the Vitra Design Museum since 2000. Leonardo is made of 12 individual foam elements in three basic shapes that can be arranged in variable configurations and show the design of the flag of the United States—stars and stripes. The sofa is part of a small series produced by the Italian company Gufram. The material used is polyurethane block foam, cut to shape and coated with several layers of a polyurethane elastomer called Guflac, after the manufacturer.
Leonardo was in a very fragile state of preservation due to degradation processes of the PUR and storage and handling circumstances prior to entering the museum collection. In preparation for displaying Leonardo in the traveling exhibition Pop Art Design, the object was extensively treated by the conservators at VDM. The conservation included: surface cleaning, consolidation of foam and coating, reshaping of deformed edges of the coating, securing the edges of the coating with synthetic netting, filling losses in the foam body with inlays and retouching of the inlays.
In addition to the huge conservation effort, it was necessary to address the problem of how to transport a piece of degraded PU foam. The lecture will illustrate the different approaches, ultimately arriving at a solution with customized boxes and different layers of 3D textile, so-called 3mesh spacer fabric. By the time the conference takes place, the exhibition will already have traveled to two venues and the experiences up until that point will be presented.
From the beginning, the conservation of Leonardo was accompanied by an exchange of diverse opinions and ideas concerning the appearance of the sofa after finishing our work. One main concern in terms of “conservation treatment only” was the reaction and reception of the visitors. Will they recognize the value of this unique piece despite its visible degradation? Will they classify the condition as “patina” or as damage that should be repaired?
In the end, Leonardo was one of the key visuals for the exhibition and encouraged new discussions and opinions about visitors’ perception of plastic degradation.