Science comes to the aid of art

Les amis du Centre Pompidou

As part of a scheme to support the Friends of the Pompidou Center, the Michelin Corporate Foundation has applied the scientific and technical expertise of Michelin researchers to preserve artworks containing rubbers. 

Little known because their use is recent, elastomers, commonly known as rubbers, contained in works of art may deteriorate in such a way as to alter their nature. Faced with this technological challenge, the artworks restoration department of the Pompidou Center National Museum of Modern Art has launched a three-year interdisciplinary research project with backing from the Friends of the Pompidou Center. The project brings together the French National Library, which provides the research materials, and the Michelin Research division which has shared its highly detailed knowledge of elastomers and composite materials. The first year has been spent in identifying rubber materials in the collections of the National Museum of Modern Art and developing methodologies to analyze and better understand their composition. The next stages of the project will be to examine the deterioration process and then create preventive conservation protocols.

During the initial phase of the project, a common materials vocabulary was defined and a library of benchmark samples set up. Working from this, nearly all the artworks containing rubber in the Pompidou Center National Museum of Modern Art have been characterized.

Damien Brosson, Michelin Group physicochemical research department

‘We have brought together two knowledge areas, the design of mixes and the physicochemical characterization of materials, to define an investigation and data processing strategy adapted to the analytical tools of the French National Library (BNF) based on pyrolysis and then chromatography and mass spectrometry. We were quickly able to talk a common language with the Pompidou Center. The project demonstrated our ability to transfer our expertise to other fields.’

The photos below show detailed views of a work by Marc Quinn, The Great Escape, 1996 and surface detail of an element of Plinths by Richard Serra, 1967. Plus a microscope view of a work by Marcel Duchamp, Prière de toucher.

© L.ROYAN, Service de la restauration-MNAM Centre Pompidou

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