Preventive conservation and identification of plastics of a recent acquisition at the National Museum of the American Indian

Anne Turner Gunnison, Susan Heald, Jia-Sun Tsang, Yoonjo Lee, and Jennifer
Giaccai

Abstract

In 2009, the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) acquired contemporary artist Brian Jungen’s Crux (as seen from those who sleep on the surface of the earth under the night sky) [26/7253], a large mobile comprised of five animals made of plastic luggage, and a wooden rowboat. Mr. Jungen’s work is often characterized by his use of mainstream consumer goods.

The installation of Crux in the main rotunda of the museum made it necessary to determine appropriate preventive conservation parameters for materials not often found in NMAI’s collections. FTIR, Py-GC-MS, microfader testing, and spectrophotometer technologies, were used at the Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute, the National Gallery of Art, and at NMAI to identify and characterize the plastics present and determine an appropriate exhibit environment for Crux.

Of equal importance to the analysis was the opportunity to consult with Mr. Jungen about his perspectives on the long-term preservation and aesthetic expectations for Crux. Mr. Jungen is well aware of the potential for degradation of the materials with which he chooses to work. While consultations with Native constituent community groups are already standard practice in the NMAI conservation department, working with contemporary artists and their materials, which requires a slightly different approach, is a newer development.

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