The Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) has partnered with Museo del Novecento, Museum of Cultures (MUDEC), and Centro Conservazione e Restauro La Venaria Reale (CCR) to explore the practical application of GCI’s research on the conservation of transparent plastics via the treatment of Giraffa Artificiale by Gino Marotta.
Gino Marotta, one of the most significant Pop Art artists in Italy, masterfully used synthetic materials, such as poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA) to create colorful transparent sculptural plants and animals. Giraffa Artificiale (1973) is one of his famous zoomorphic sculptures; it is a 3-meter-tall giraffe constructed of transparent pink PMMA and owned by the Museo del Novecento in Milan (Italy). The sculpture was in poor condition and, like many
damaged objects made of transparent plastics, has been kept in storage for many years due to the challenges that the conservation of these synthetic materials pose. The sculpture was covered by a thick layer of dust, the PMMA was scratched and chipped, two tails and a hoof were broken, and several fragments were missing.
Over the last years the GCI, as part of its Preservation of Plastics Project, has carried out extensive research to identify suitable materials and develop treatment methods to successfully repair damaged objects made of transparent plastics, particularly PMMA (https://www.getty.edu/conservation/our_projects/science/plastics/repair.html).
Giraffa Artificiale has been identified as an exemplary case study to bring the results of these treatment studies into practice.
The treatment of the sculpture was led and carried out by the project coordinator, Anna Laganà (GCI Senior Research Specialist) with CCR collaborator Marco Demmelbauer (Head of Metals, Ceramic and Glass Conservation Laboratory) and took place in Spring 2013 at the MUDEC’s
Treatment included: examination and documentation of technique and condition, preliminary tests on mock-ups simulating the sculpture’s damages, cleaning with spray application of agar gel (used for the first time on plastic), re-adhering broken pieces, filling scratches and cracks, and reconstructing missing fragments.
The project aimed also to enhance – locally and internationally – the dissemination of methodologies for the conservation of plastics in collections through the following activities: lab tours and live streaming during treatment, social media communications, a free workshop for conservators, an open-source publication and the production of a video highlighting the treatment project (with the last two forthcoming). The workshop was held
over three separate days (17 and 31 March, 14 April 2023) and focused on the conservation of plastics showcasing the treatment in MUDEC’s lab. It was organized in collaboration with the Italian project Storie di Plastica (https://www.cesmar7.org/storie-di-plastica/) and offered to 22 Italian conservators.
In the end, the treatment proved successful. The application of GCI research findings allowed the team to safely and effectively restore Giraffa Artificiale’ s form and transparency. The sculpture, after over twenty years, is back on public view in Milan’s Natural History Museum until September 2024.