Tape Is Ruining Priceless Art. This New Gel Can Fix It

National Geographic | Sarah Gibbens

See a tear on a piece of paper? Stick some tape on it. It’s a common sense quick fix to keep important paper in one piece. But for people in charge of priceless works of art, tape is a nightmare. Unwitting conservators of the past used standard sticky tape to try and hold together famous but fragile treasures, such as the Dead Sea scrolls and drawings by filmmaker Federico Fellini. The trouble is that, in addition to ruining the aesthetic integrity of a piece of art, the adhesive on tape can cause discoloration over time. Certain types of tape can even bleed past where they were placed and alter the visual appearance of the work.

Modern art restorers have traditionally used solvents and intense humidity to loosen tape, methods that can damage the piece or present a toxic hazard for restorers. Now, a team of chemists from the University of Florence has developed a new treatment for the sticky affliction that’s safe for humans and doesn’t damage the art. The method starts with hydrogel, a type of gel with high water content used in a variety of common objects, from plastics to pills. The hydrogel used by the Italian researchers was between 95 and 98 percent water. The other five to two percent is made of intersperced nano-sized droplets of organic solvents…read more

Image: (Left) Detail from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel; (Right) a 16th-century drawing reproducing the same detail. An inscription “di mano di Michelangelo” (from Michelangelo’s hand), on the bottom-left side of the drawing, was hidden by a tape and revealed after restoration. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY PNAS