Modern Materials Information & Guidelines

[Please follow the links where needed]

PROBLEM PLASTICS CHECKLIST (author: Fran David, Science Museum)

Problem plastics check-list

An excellent introduction to identifying plastics and the types of damage they suffer. The checklist contains a detailed table, useful images, historical information and implications for storage. Look out for the material identification process on the final two pages.



The following guidelines are taken from a Masters Thesis on the challenges of preserving contemporary art. Although tailored to contemporary art, there are points that may prove useful to other disciplines.


Artist’s intent, materials and reinstallation

How is the artist to be involved with the installation of the work?

Initial installation only.

Subsequent installations, when artist is available (instructions to be provided)

Not at all (instructions to be provided)

As supervisor or hands-on?

Does artist wish to be notified of installation date if not involved?

How tightly defined is the set-up/arrangement of objects within the installation?

Ensure the artist provides any relevant documentation on acquisition

ie photographs, video, plans, instructions, relevant manuals for equipment.

Has the work been displayed anywhere before? Is there a catalogue? What are the contact details of the relevant person involved?

Evolution – Does the artist see the piece evolving or remaining in a static condition? Are there different strategies for each part?

Context – Is the time the work was made important to its meaning/representation?

Are any of the components in the installation more likely to deteriorate than others?

List the components present and give them a rating between 1 and 5 as to their likelihood of deterioration/need for replacement.

Are any components in danger of becoming obsolete?

Consult the artist as to whether these parts can be replaced/replicated and what with. (link to evolution)

Who is to source their replacement?

Can spare parts be acquired alongside the piece?

Should the need arise in future, would the artist be able/willing to re-make the piece?

If the installation contains mechanical parts or video elements what are the preferred options? (See Video Guidelines)

Does the artist wish to be involved/consulted if conservation is required in future?

Museum Considerations

Give an estimate of the time/staff/costs required for re-installing the work

Will a dedicated space need to be built?

Will specialist technicians be required?

Will power be required?

Make a note and description of each part of the installation and give it a preliminary number to preclude accessioning.

Take various photographs of each part and the installation

as a whole (if possible) for consideration

How much space will it require on display and in storage?

Are there likely to be any storage difficulties?

Can protective measures be used while on display?

Could any parts be in danger of being stolen while on display?

Will there need to be a permanent presence of attendants?

Are there any health and safety issues (ie, small, sharp parts etc)?


What format was the work originally shot in? Are there any qualities of this format that define the work?

Has the work been shown anywhere before? How? Was the artist happy with the way it was displayed?

What equipment is needed? Has this been included in the acquisition price?

Does the artist have manuals for the equipment?

If not, where can they be found?

What light levels are required to display the work properly?

Will a blackout space need to be constructed?

Has the work ever been shown continuously for a lengthy period? What are the most likely technical problems that will arise?

Are specialist technicians needed to operate/synchronise the equipment?

Is the equipment used to show the piece essential to its meaning (eg, is the television a work defining property?).

What would be the options if equipment becomes obsolete?

Mothballing – storage of multiple examples of original equipment

Emulation – imitating look using different means (eg, imitate the shell of the television but with new screen/mechanisms inside)

Migration – upgrading equipment and media

Can the work be transferred/updated onto new media formats when the need arises?

What are the most important elements that must be

closely monitored (sound, light, colour, motion, picture quality)

Does the artist hold a master copy just in case?

Ask to be played the copy you are acquiring on acquisition, with the artist present, to make sure there are no problems.

Museum Considerations

Estimate costs/staff/time associated with:

the construction of display spaces

transferring/updating media

sourcing/purchasing new equipment or maintaining old equipment

hiring specialists

Are there any health and safety issues (ie, dark space)?

The issues above should be taken into consideration on acquisition. The person responsible should carry out an informal discussion with the artist, ideally in the presence of the work in question, which should be recorded and documented. If deemed appropriate a contract should be drawn up between artist and museum defining what is and is not permissible with regards to the preservation of the work.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: