Plastic & Pop – An uneasy alliance today?

Plastic & Pop – An uneasy alliance today?

Artists of the Avant-Garde started using man-made materials like celluloid for sculpture as early as 1916 (Naum Gabo Woman’s Head). In the 1950s the commercial use of plastics exploded. Consequentially it became a material of Pop Art sculptures and multiples of the 1960s. Claes Oldenburg (*1929) started to use PVC, Vynil and Dacron for his soft art pieces, like the somehow touching 120 x 120 cm Switches Sketch (1964).

Andy Warhol’s second show at the Leo Castelli gallery in April 1966 included floating silver pillows, which were made of helium/air-filled metalized plastic film, size 91,4 x 129,5 cm each. A precise gas mixture enabled the shiny plastic balloons to float off the floor and prevented them from sticking to the ceiling. They are still displayed in museums today. It is said that Warhol “wanted to end his painting career with those silver pillows, to let them fly away from the rooftop, but they didn’t really fly away. It was a grand gesture; he was a master of the grand gesture.” (Ronnie Cutrone)

James Rosenquist wanted to make a statement about the piling up of advertising images of a modern consumer society, also of its objects and packaging. A pyramid seemed the adequate image for that kind of dump. In 1971 he created the multiple ‚Mastaba‘ (early Egyptian pyramid) as a lithographic print (76 x 56.1 cm) with a mounted acrylic hour glass containing plastic (!) beads showing the passing of time – or showing it running out quickly, as one might interpret the piece of art today.

Just a quote from the website of the ‘Popart project’ (Preservation Of Plastics ARTefacts research project, funded by the EU commision) to outline today’s problem: “Unfortunately many plastics are simply not designed to last forever and start to degrade almost as soon as they are put on display. If one combines the ubiquity of plastics in artworks and other museum objects with their relatively short life expectancy, and the currently low level of plastic conservation expertise, then it is clear that a massive problem faces the museum community.”

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