Plastics: celebrated in art

Art made of plastics – thanks to its design possibilities, the material has long been used in many works of art. Since June 22, 2023, the SCHIRN KUNSTHALLE FRANKFURT has dedicated its exhibition “PLASTIC WORLD” to the exciting history of plastics in the visual arts. In addition to objects, assemblages, installations and films, the exhibition shows a broad spectrum for the artistic use of plastics. At the same time, it reflects the social context. More than 100 works by over 50 international artists can be seen at the SCHIRN until October 1, 2023.

Plastic World, Pascale Marthine Tayou, L’arbre à palabres, 2023, Installationsansicht, Kunststoff
© Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt 2023, Photo: Norbert Miguletz

Plastic Age begins in the 1950s

The first plastic was presented at the World’s Fair in 1862. But it then took until the late 1950s for plastic to become a symbol of mass culture, and the “Plastic Age” was born. “We start in the late 1950s, early 1960s and follow plastics in the visual arts until today,” says Martina Weinhart, curator at the SCHIRN. The exhibition offers a broad spectrum – from pop culture to the futuristic Space Age and trash works of Nouveau Réalisme to ecocritical positions of recent times. The many objects, installations, and films show the diversity of substances, forms, and materials, while keeping the respective social context in mind.  

The term "plastic" first appeared in 1911. At that time, it was mainly engineers who worked with the material, seeing themselves as artists because they created new materials. In America they spoke of "plastics," in France of "plastique." Both words derive from the Greek word "plássein," which means "to shape". In Germany, this derivation did not quite work. After the division of Germany, the term "plaste" prevailed in the East. Because the West wanted to distinguish itself from the East, the term "plastic" was preferred. Today, people in this country only speak of plastic.

Recycling at the top of the plastics industry agenda

Until the 1970s, plastics production made great progress. During this time, new things were always being tried out. It was possible, for example, for the material composition of a coffee mug in 1959 to be completely different from that in 1964. It was also then that the foundation was laid for plastics to be so durable today. However, the issue of aging in particular had not yet been thought through at that time.

Today, things look different: Plastic is still a raw material in demand and much used. Recycling has long been a central topic in the industry. Plastics can be found in a wide variety of applications and forms – both in our everyday lives and in art. And with advancing technology such as 3D scanners and 3D printers, there will soon be entirely new works of art. Some examples can already be seen in the current exhibition.

Plastic World, Ausstellungsansicht Kunststoff © Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt 2023, Foto: Norbert Miguletz
Plastic World, Exhibition view © Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt 2023, Photo: Norbert Miguletz

Post image source: © Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt 2023, Photo: Norbert Miguletz



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