7.10.2009

Ars Longa Exceptum Plasticus

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"At this point there is nothing further that can be done with them, except to freeze them."

No, this is not the LA coroner talking about a certain pop star's endlessly resculpted parts, but the Walker Art Center's associate registrar, Joe King, talking about two works by Joseph Beuys in its collection, which are made from plastic that is starting to deteriorate.

This information comes from
Weeping Barbie Syndrome Strikes Walker Art Center, posted by writer Marianne Combs on her State of the Arts blog for Minnesota Public Radio News on July 6. Combs, aware of the post on Slate.com (see below) went to the Walker to find how the institution's plastic works are faring. That's when she learned that when PVC deteriorates, the plasticizer in the material migrates outward, making the surface wet and sticky (first noticed on the pre-astronaut bambola); that outgassing can also damage adjacent works; and that the Beuys works are in freezer lockdown.






What do Barbie and Beuys have in common?




On July 1, Slate.com's Sam Kean asked and answered this question: Does Plastic Art Last Forever? Not Even Close. Apparently it cracks, browns, melts, weeps and smells. Oh, and it can explode, too.

Thanks to my blogosphere buddies C-Monster and Hrag Vartanian for their links to these stories. (And a shout out to Hrag for noting my review of Ed Winkleman's book in the same group of posts.)
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4 comments:

Matthew Beall said...

Some words that come to mind -- decay, deterioration, impermanence, impurity, longevity, permanence … and I am sure there are more that you can add. The use of ephemeral and/or untested materials present great challenges to conservators and raises questions, I suppose, about who is responsible when a piece of art “falls apart.” Is it the artist? Is it the maker of the products/materials? Is it the gallery that sold the work? Does it even matter? Where is the line drawn?

Joanne Mattera said...

These issues do matter, Matthew. I'm going to work on a Marketing Mondays post for later in the summer that addresses just these issues.

asmithgarofano said...

These articles make me a little nervous about the lifespan of the acrylic paints I use... it's my understanding that they are essentially liquid plastics. Has anyone heard any reports about deterioration of acrylic paintings over time?

Joanne Mattera said...

When I have some time, I will contact the folks at Golden paints to ask them exactly this question. They are a conscientious and honorable family that has always done right by the art community, so I expect they have done research and will have information available.

I can say that the early plastics--the "weeping Barbie" material, and the cellulose acetate that Naum Gabo used--are plastics from a previous generation. Let's hope the newer generation of plastics are more stable. Certainly they were tested in ways that cellulose nitrite (the early celluloid film that caught fire--remember "Cinema Paradiso"?) was not. So, to be continued . . .