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 quasi-rot-resistant materials in the art scene occurred in the 1960s, but it had inspired avant-garde movements in Paris decades earlier.
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.
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. 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 colorful – subsequently appeared in many different art forms and movements, including contemporary art. they.
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.
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.
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. .
Arman has created trash objects called “Poubelles” (Trash Bins), in which he squeezes a lot of plastic waste into display cases. “As a witness of this society, I have always been deeply concerned with the pseudobiological cycle of production, consumption and destruction,” Arman said in 1973, adding that he had long been worried because the fact that “one of the most obvious cycles the concrete consequences of this cycle is to flood our world with garbage and junk.” Today, his words sound very visionary. far and wide.
Arman’s colorful painting “Poubles” aims to contrast the enthusiastic use of plastic in popular 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.
Painting with plastic
Lynda Benglis, another American sculptor, took a different path, expanding the boundaries between painting and sculpture by “painting” with latex 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.
“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.