Art for society throws away – DW – June 23, 2023

Sneakers, dentures, computers – plastic everywhere. Like a chameleon, it can go undetected, adapting to its surroundings, becoming invisible. And, of course, it is also used in art.

The explosion of barely rotten materials in the art scene took place in the 1960s, but it had inspired avant-garde movements in Paris decades before that.

The first plastic sculpture was created in 1916 by Russian sculptor Naum Gabo: “Tete No.2” (“Constructed Head No.2”) a cube-shaped head made of rhodoid, a type of rhodoid. cellulose acetate resin is used to make dolls and billiard balls.

Woman wearing blue plastic gloves shows large sculpture of Naum Gabo's head and torso, titled 'Head Built No. 2'.
‘Constructed Head No.2’ is the first plastic art work by Naum GaboImage: Ben Birchall/empics/photo alliance

But not all plastics are the same. When Plexiglas, also known as acrylic, appeared in the 1930s, new possibilities arose, including artists.

The Bauhaus and other art movements of the era experimented with transparency and reflection.

The artists of the Zero group, including Otto Piene and Heinz Mack, benefited from the possibilities this new plastic offered in the late 1950s, experimenting with plastic film to create light sculptures. their. Heinz Mack says that any medium is suitable for his art. But when designers also started using plastic for pop-colored furniture, he lost interest.

Is it art, or is it garbage?

Plastic—whether hard or flexible, transparent, opaque, patterned, smooth, delicate, or brightly colored—then appeared in many different art forms and movements, including Pop Art.

John de Andrea’s 1978 plastic nude woman sculpture “Woman leaning against the wall” is so realistic that you want to reach out and touch her to confirm it’s just a sculpture.

Artwork 'Sea Anemone': A giant transparent plastic installation that looks a bit like an anemone.
‘Anemones’ by Otto PienePhoto: Otto Piene/VG Bild-Kunst Estate, Bonn 2023, © Photo: Peter Moore

The line between art and fashion is blurred.

Thomas Bayrle, an artist from the German city of Frankfurt, worked with a fashion studio to design the plastic jackets that were later sold at the Kaufhof department store chain for 25.50 Deutsche Marks ( around 12€ or 13 dollars).

Niki de Saint Phalle, famous for its giant “Nanas”, also succumbed to the allure of plastic. In 1968, she created the Nanas inflatable ball. As beach toys, people can take them on vacation.

Plastic critics

French Realist artists such as Christo & Jeanne-Claude, Cesar and Arman, were among the first to create artwork that criticized plastic as a symbol of consumerism and throwaway society. .

Schirn Kunsthalle Plastics World Exhibition |  Christo & Jeanne Claude," Look" um 1965
Christo & Jeanne Claude created ‘Look’ magazine wrapped in plastic and tied with twine, circa 1965Image: Sammlung Karin und Uwe Hollweg, Museum Weserburg für Moderne Kunst, Bremen

Arman created garbage objects called “Poubles” (Trash Bins), in which he squeezed a lot of plastic waste into a display case: “As a witness of this society, I have always cared deeply. to the pseudobiological cycle of production, consumption, and destruction,” Arman said in 1973, adding that he had long struggled with the fact that “one of the concrete consequences is obvious. The most important part of this cycle is that our world is filled with waste and excess waste.” Today, his words sound very visionary.

His colorful painting “Poubles” aims to contrast the enthusiastic use of plastic in Pop Art. For example, US artist Claes Oldenburg created XXL-sized soft sculptures that represent everyday objects. He used rigid polyurethane foam, a new material that appeared on the market in the 1960s and excited the art world.

Claes Oldenburg "Giants"giant cigarette butts on the floor of the museum, a person is looking at the artwork on the wall.
Claes Oldenburg’s Soft Sculpture, “Giant Fagends”Image: /Mark Lennihan/AP/image alliance

Painting with plastic

Lynda Benglis, another American sculptor, follows a different path: She stretches the boundaries between painting and sculpture by “painting” with rubber and gouache. Her sculpture “The Pool” has an organic form, undulating almost alive thanks to the flow and movement of the resin. Benglis has also created a range of works using molded polyurethane foam and flexible paper.

The sculptures of artist Berta Fischer, born in 1973, from Berlin are all about transparency and lightness. She creates ephemeral installations out of plastic foil, nylon thread, or acrylic glass, with brightly colored, reflective or transparent surfaces that look luxurious and cheap at the same time.

Colorful art installation, hundreds of plastic buckets attached to poles.
Pascale Martine Tayou’s ‘L’arbre à palabres’ (Parley Tree) on display at the Frankfurt exhibitionImage: VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2023

“Plastic World” exhibition at the Schirn Kunsthalle museum in Frankfurt, running until October 1, 2023, showcases art from the euphoria of popular culture to the futuristic influences of the space age and to pieces of junk. from Nouveau Realisme to contemporary eco-critical works.

The exhibition shows the allure of plastic and its drawbacks, underscoring how contradictory the material is: Plastic is a curse and a blessing; it is indestructible, like the concept of art itself.

This article was originally written in German.


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