Die Gläserne Kuh, die Gläserne Frau, das Gläserne Pferd und der Gläserne Mann in einem weißen Raum mit gehängten Bildern im Hintergrund.


An interdisciplinary research platform on the long-term preservation of exhibits made of plastic

The Project

The research project (November 2016 to April 2020) is being conducted by the Deutsches Hygiene-Museum jointly with the course of studies on Art Technology and Conservation of Works of Art at the Academy of Fine Arts Dresden, the Chair of Organic Chemistry of Polymers at the Technische Universität Dresden and the Cologne Institute of Conservation Sciences (CICS) at the University of Applies Sciences.

The primary objective is to ensure the long-term preservation of the various Transparent Figures in the collection of the Deutsches Hygiene-Museum, a collection that includes two Transparent Men, one Transparent Woman on permanent loan from the Deutsches Historisches Museum Berlin, one Transparent Pregnant Woman, and one Transparent Cow. The objects can be viewed via the Museum’s online database.

The Transparent Figures are the best-known objects to have been produced by the Deutsches Hygiene-Museum and, throughout the 20th century, they have been put on display to millions of visitors in all kinds of exhibition formats. Even today they still represent key objects in the permanent exhibition of the Deutsches Hygiene-Museum. But these Transparent Figures are now starting to show signs of significant damage for which no conservation or restoration concept has yet been found. Indeed, the rapid degradation of the synthetic materials developed in the 19th and 20th century has so far not been adequately studied. What’s more, too little is known about the production, exhibition and reception history of the Transparent Figures to help define the possibilities and limitations of any future restoration from the aspect of conservation ethics. Given this context, it would seem at present that the long-term preservation of these spectacular body models is not possible.

As part of the interdisciplinary research platform, a scientifically founded and sustainable conservation and restoration concept is to be drawn up to secure the long-term preservation and, therefore, exhibition capability of the various Transparent Figures, one that is also transferable to other museum collections worldwide.


International Closing Conference

19 to 20 September 2019

Deutsches Hygiene-Museum, Marta-Fraenkel-Saal

With German–English / English–German simultaneous interpreting

Well into the 20th century all sorts of objects were manufactured using cellulose-based plastics. Many of those objects are now preserved in museum collections. Other than mass-produced items of everyday use such as combs, spectacles and handbags, cellulose plastics were also used to create artworks such as the works by Russian sculptor Naum Gabo. These materials were highly innovative in their day and were also used by natural history museums, museums of society and social hygiene , and technical museums to produce exhibits subsequently showcased as thrilling ‘masterpieces of technology’. But now cellulose-based plastics are proving to be a particular challenge with regard to their long-term preservation. Indeed, they are ageing rapidly, and many of these historical exhibits now show signs of significant damage. Many invaluable works of art and cultural assets are at risk of complete degradation over the new few decades, due to general ageing processes, improper storage conditions, or the lack of restoration and/or conservation options.

The International Closing Conference for the project Transparent Figures and Other Exhibition Icons. Studying and Preserving Historical Plastic Objects is an opportunity for an interdisciplinary exchange on aspects relating to the history, materials science and conservation and restoration of museum objects made of cellulose-based plastics. While the focus from a scientific conservation point of view is on studying and researching ageing behaviour and restoration options, the conference will also examine the production, exhibition and collection history of these highly innovative exhibits from a historical viewpoint.

The conference is aimed first and foremost at restorers, scholars of the humanities, natural sciences and conservation science, museum professionals and collection curators eager to find out more about the latest findings in interdisciplinary plastics research.


Deutsches Hygiene-Museum, Dresden

Study course on Art Technology, Conservation and Restoration of Works of Art at the Academy of Fine Arts Dresden

Chair of Organic Chemistry of Polymers at the Dresden University of Technology

Cologne Institute of Conservation Sciences (CICS) at the University of Applied Sciences Cologne


September 19, Thursday


from 8.30 am: Registration

9 am: Welcome and introduction

Prof. Klaus Vogel, Deutsches Hygiene-Museum Dresden

Susanne Roeßiger, Deutsches Hygiene-Museum Dresden

Opening: Understanding, collecting and researching historical plastic objects as cultural assets

Moderator: Prof. Dr Ursula Haller, Academy of Fine Arts Dresden

9.15 am to 9.30 am: Plastics in Form - Design History as Materials History

Dr Wolfgang Schepers, Kunststoff-Museums-Verein e.V.

9.30 am to 9.45 am: Plastics as a Research Topic of Conservation Sciences
Prof. Dr Friederike Waentig, University of Applied Sciences Cologne

10 am to 10.30 am: Coffee break


Panel 1: Historical Exhibition Icons Made of Plastic

Moderator: Susanne Roeßiger, Deutsches Hygiene-Museum Dresden

10.30 am to 11 am: Transparent Women: Local and Global Museum Histories

Dr Karen Rader, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond (USA)


11 to 11.30 am: Dresden and Cologne’s ‘Transparent Figures’ within the Regime Rivalry, 1949-1990

Dr Christian Sammer, Heidelberg University


11.30 to 12 noon: Utopian dimension of the notion of transparency: design icons made of synthetic material

Dr Julia Bulk, Wilhelm-Wagenfeld-Stiftung, Bremen


12 to 12.30 pm: The modern synthetic dwelling for the modern human

Dr Pamela Voigt, BAKU - Bauen mit Kunststoffen, Leipzig


12.45 pm to 2 pm: Lunch



Panel 2: Conservation and Restoration of Historical Plastic Objects made from Cellulose Esters

Moderator: Prof. Dr Ursula Haller, Dresden Academy of Fine Arts

2 pm to 2.30 pm: Transparent Figures – Damage assessment and conservation concepts for these complex interlinked objects

Maria Lörzel, Dresden Academy of Fine Arts

2.30 pm to 3 pm: Facing Challenges: Investigations into the Conservation of Cellulose Ester Objects

Anna Laganà, Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles

3 pm to 3.30 pm: Mass - Unique Objects - Documents. 5,000 Toothbrushes at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum

Margrit Bormann, Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum

3.30 pm to 4 pm: Managing cellulose-based film material at the Deutsches Filminstitut

Anke Mebold, DFF - Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum, Frankfurt a. M.

4.15 pm to 4.45 pm: Coffee break

5 pm to 6 pm: Guided tours of the permanent and special exhibition

6.15 pm to 7.30 pm: Dinner


7.30 pm: Public evening event: What should we do with ageing objects - research, exhibit, discard, renew?

Panel discussion with, among others, Prof. Dr Angela Matyssek (Dresden Academy of Fine Arts), Prof. Johannes Vogel (Natural History Museum Berlin), Prof. Klaus Vogel (Deutsches Hygiene-Museum Dresden), Dr Sabine Witt (Deutsches Historisches Museum Berlin), Suzan de Groot, Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, Amsterdam





Panel 3: Understanding and Slowing Down Ageing Processes: Possibilities and Limitations

Moderator: Prof. Dr Christoph Herm, Dresden Academy of Fine Arts

9 am to 9.30 am: Influence of climatic conditions on the degradation of cellulose acetate

Benjamin Kemper, Dresden Academy of Fine Arts

9.30 am to 10 am: Ageing and conservation of 3D objects made of cellulose nitrate: possibilities and limitations

Christina Elsässer, Deutsches Museum Munich


10 am to 10.30 am: Research into the conservation of plastics in museum collections: the use of artificial ageing

Suzan de Groot, Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, Amsterdam

10.30 am to 11 am: Identification of harmful substances and characterization of Elastomers by Thermal Analysis

Erich Jelen, Fraunhofer-Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology UMSICHT, Oberhausen

11.15 am to 12 pm: Lunch snack

Panel 4: Current Plastics Research

Moderator: Prof. Dr Friederike Waentig, University of Applied Sciences Cologne

12 noon to 12.15 pm: Recommendations for Managing Cellulose Acetate Objects

Benjamin Kemper/Maria Lörzel, Dresden Academy of Fine Arts

12.15 pm to 12.30 pm: COMPLEX: The Degradation of Complex Modern Polymeric Objects in Heritage Collections: A System Dynamics Approach

Dr Katherine Curran, University College London

12.30 pm to 12.45 pm: A National Framework for Managing Malignant Plastics in Museum Collections (the PolyMuse project in Australia)

Dr Petronella Nel, University of Melbourne


12.45 pm to 1 pm: Facets of a Collection. Research on the Vivid Colours of Early Plastics as Illustrated by an Inventory from the Technisches Museum Wien

Anne Biber, Dresden Academy of Fine Arts


1 pm to 1.15 pm: Materials in Motion. A Research Project on Animation Artwork conservation

Aafke Weller, EYE Filmmuseum Amsterdam


1.30 pm: Farewell

Translation by Stephen Grynwasser