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"Plastic World" exhibition in the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt

Plastic as an art form: From the end of June to the beginning of October, the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt dedicated a large thematic exhibition to the eventful history of plastic in the visual arts. The PLASTIC WORLD exhibition showed objects, assemblages, installations, films and documentation from nearly seven decades. More than 100 works from around 50 international artists were on show, including Christo, Niki de Saint Phalle and Tue Greenfort, who is involved with the discovery of a fungus in the Amazon region that can metabolise polyurethane.
 

"We live in a plastic age", says curator Martina Weinhart. "On the one hand, plastic offers incredible possibilities, but at the same time it creates problems. For the exhibition, it was interesting to see how a material can have such a career – ranging from 'we all think it's great' to 'dreadful, we need to get rid of it at all costs'." This wide range of perception of plastic is also reflected in the feature contributions for the exhibition, in which comments ranged from a "material for utopias" and a "great" and "fabulous" material for art with a "ruined reputation", through to "training in the tolerance of opposites". The exhibits in the Frankfurt Schirn aimed to show, alongside the history and the fascinating versatility, also the ambivalence of plastic. Sometimes visitors to the exhibition came up against green slime dripping from a high stool, as in an artwork by a group of female artists, HazMatLab, comprising Sandra Havlicek, Tina Kohlmann and Katharina Schücke. Sometimes there were film excerpts from the 1960s, as in a happening, where tubular film was filled with air and the people standing around played with giant streamers produced from them. Also on show were works of foamed plastics, for example from US artist Lynda Benglis and the French artist César. César, for example, had polyurethane foam flowing to form giant puddles on the ground, emerging from sideboards or flowing out of an orange-coloured egg box, calling these experiments at the beginning of the 1970s "Expansions". Or there were gaudy inflatable female figures swinging from the ceiling, the famous "Nanas" from Niki de Saint Phalle. The topics of the exhibition ranged from futurism, naturalness and artificial beauty right through to transience, from which many an exhibit is also affected. The walk-in installation "Anemones: An Air Aquarium" by the artist Otto Piene, which he produced in 1976 for the organisation Creative Time in New York, had to be reproduced for the exhibition because the material in the original had become porous, explained curator Weinhart. Also more recent works that had dealt critically with plastic and its improper handling for the environment were to be seen at Plastic World. For example, an installative contribution from Dennis Siering from 2022 made a reference to the deceptive similarity of stone-like micro and pyroplastic with natural stone. And the work "Funghi decomposition" from the artist Tue Greenfort simulated a fungus from the Amazon region that can metabolise polyurethane, artificially as a 3D print. The exhibition’s aim, said Dr. Sebastian Baden, Director of the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, was to offer an invitation to a critical confrontation with the material plastic, over and beyond aesthetic and formal aspects.
 
Sources:

  • fr.de (21.6.202)
  • press release Schirn Kunsthalle (21.6.2023)
  • sueddeutsche.de (21.6.2023)
  • hessenschau.de (22.6.2023)
  • daserste.de ´Titel, Thesen, Temperamente´ (2.7.2023)
  • Photo: © Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt 2023, Norbert Miguletz

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