Industrial Design Objects in the Museum Environment
Industrial design as an artistic movement emerged following the Second World War. In Italy, a group of Milanese architects created many new objects inspired by a desire for a more modern and comfortable life, for which design, shape and appearance added a strong symbolic dimension. Plastic became the material for innovation and for serial industrial production and was used extensively following the formulation of polymeric materials and the introduction of plasticizers and stabilizers that allowed the processing of important materials such as polyvinyl-chloride, polyethylene, polystyrene and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). Museum collections now include 20th century plastic objects, but their conservation has become a serious concern and an urgent problem due to chemical deterioration, physical damage and mechanical failure which can be sudden and rapid. The deterioration of plastics is due to the action of ultraviolet light, heat and aggressive pollutants. In this chapter a summary of the deterioration process and mechanisms of photo-oxidation is proposed. The behaviour of ABS and polyvinylacetate (PVAc) in indoor conditions and their susceptibility to photo-oxidative degradation is illustrated with case studies of important Italian design objects: the Grillo telephone, designed in 1965 by Marco Zanuso and Richard Sapper; and the Fantasma lamp, designed by brothers Piergiacomo and Achille Castiglioni in 1959. Literature and studies about conservation of design items made of plastics are still few and interdisciplinary studies are needed to address active and preventive conservation issues for private and public collections.