DEAR ART NURSE:
We have several Arman Lucite boxes with objects suspended within layers. Many of the “boxes” have yellowed. Is there someway to restore them to remove the discoloring?
I take it that you are referring to one of the sculptural “accumulations” produced beginning in the early 1960s by the French-born American artist Pierre Armand Fernandez who went by the moniker Arman. These compositions of objects were placed by the artists either into acrylic (Lucite being a brand name for cast acrylic, much like Plexiglas) or cast directly into polyester resin.
The question here is which type of object do you have? If it’s the acrylic variety, there’s a good chance that the yellowing is a surface discoloration or even an accumulation of dirt that a conservator might just get lucky enough to be able to reverse. If it’s polyester, it’s more likely to be an irreversible photochemical condition caused by exposure to light or poor catalyzation (as in: Part A was not mixed correctly with Part B and it didn’t set right when it was made) — or any number of other factors. A pro might have a chance of reversing it, but my guess it’s more or less a snowball’s chance in hell since polyester resins, like ladies from Beverly Hills, aren’t exactly known for aging gracefully.
In any case, I don’t recommend you taking a stab at this yourself. Chances are you’ll stain it or make the plastic cloudy or sticky — or poison yourself in the process. This one calls for a professional. You can find a live and willing Art Nurse in your area on the website of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works.
Cool looking as they are, plastics are tricky materials to safeguard. Though there are no hard and fast rules for maintaining them in museum-quality condition, one thing that always helps is keeping them away from sunlight. And heating ducts, extreme cold, dog hair, cat hair and commercial cleaners not specifically tested for the plastic in question. And whatever you do, don’t ever smoke around them, no matter how good the bud.
Have a question for the Art Nurse? E-mail her at suzie [at] c-monster [dot] net.