Preventive conservation—the management of the environmental conditions under which collections are housed and used—has from the outset been a research interest of the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI). Focusing on management and preventive measures that stabilize materials and slow the rate of deterioration, the GCI has studied environmental controls, appropriate storage, and the monitoring of objects. Beginning in 1985, scientific research projects included evaluations of energy conservation; museum climatology and environmental requirements of unique artifacts; test procedures for accelerated photochemical aging of museum and archival materials; the moisture-buffering capacity of museum storage cases; the transportation of works of art; and seismic mitigation measures for art objects.

In collaboration with mechanical engineers and conservators, GCI scientists examined aspects of energy conservation and climate control in museums, including assessments of filtration, infiltration, pressurization, and condensation, as well as indoor-generated air pollution and biodeterioration in museum microenvironments. The team developed a methodology for environmental surveys and case studies of museum construction, determining the least expensive optimal relative humidity. Alternative technologies to expensive and sophisticated procedures such as full air conditioning were considered.

Additional research in museum climatology included an examination of the effects of environmental changes on historic collagen—the major constituent in remains derived from skin—and other proteins. Collagen-containing materials have been processed throughout history as objects of utility, art, and religion. Ongoing work on the collagen of historic parchments—including the Dead Sea Scrolls and the collagen of mummified human remains—suggested that archaeological structural proteins might retain a history of their biological and postmortem environments. Factors affecting the display and storage conditions for the Dead Sea Scrolls were reviewed. The GCI also conducted research on the role of relative humidity in bronze disease and the deterioration of indoor and outdoor copper-based alloys.

The broad-based environmental research program conducted by the GCI is complemented by research on the treatment of objects and artifacts. In collaboration with the Carnegie Mellon Research Institute, for example, the GCI initiated research in 1985 on test procedures associated with the accelerated photochemical aging of museum and archival materials. Regions of the visible and ultraviolet spectrum were investigated for reactions involving yellowing and bleaching, chain-breaking and cross-linking, and effects on fading of temperature and relative humidity.

The GCI has also conducted research into optimal storage conditions for objects and artifacts. In one series of tests, the moisture-buffering capacity of museum storage cases and effectiveness of Solander boxes to buffer changes in the environment were examined. The results indicated large variation among the boxes in their hygrometric half-lives, the time required for the microenvironment inside the Solander box to reach half the relative humidity (RH) value between the initial RH of the inside and the RH of the environment.

Museums and art galleries are under increasing pressure to loan works of art. The GCI initiated research into risks associated with the transportation of objects and artifacts, including the compilation and evaluation of previous literature on: the measurement of environmental conditions such as temperature, relative humidity, shock, and vibration; the development of instrumentation and measuring methods; and the evaluation of packing material and methods. In one study supported by the GCI, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. monitored temperature and relative humidity during freight and hand-carried shipments, developing a system for safe transportation of small panel paintings.

In collaboration with the University of Southern California and the Getty Museum, the GCI conducted research on seismic mitigation measures for art objects. In a two-phase project to evaluate the earthquake mitigation methods used by Museum staff for the support of objects, scientists classified the earthquake response characteristics, structural and material properties, and dynamic-response behavior of these objects. In the second phase, representative objects were identified for detailed evaluation. In related studies, scientists developed quantitative techniques and procedures for the evaluation of current and future earthquake damage mitigation measures for art objects.

Related Scientific Research Abstracts

  • 1.1 Evaluation of Test Procedures for Accelerated Photochemical Aging of Museum and Archival Materials
  • 1.16 Energy Conservation and Climate Control in Museums
  • 1.17 Energy Conservation in Museums: Skylights, Filtration, Condensation, Infiltration/Pressurization, Vestibules, and Outdoor Air Control
  • 1.22 Moisture Buffering Capability of Museum Storage Cases
  • 1.23 Selected Topics on Museum Environments and Unique Artifacts
  • 2.4 Works of Art in Transit
  • 3.5 Evaluation of Seismic Mitigation Measures for Art Objects

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