Plastics in the Collection of the Hamburger Kunsthalle

Plastics in the Collection of the Hamburger Kunsthalle

Research Project on the Identification and Examination of Plastics in Contemporary Art

Since the 1960s, the application of plastics has not only increased in everyday products and the industry, but plastics are also more and more employed as artistic materials. In the museum collection of the Hamburger Kunsthalle numerous sculptures consist either of a certain type or a mix of plastics – ranging from early works from the 1930s and 40s all the way to contemporary installations which combine a great variety of synthetic polymers.

Different from traditional artistic materials, such as wood or stone, plastics can deteriorate under the influence of light, humidity and oxygen within a relatively short amount of time: discolouration, cracks, deformation, loss of plasticiser or complete deterioration may occur. These processes of degradation are irreversible; from a certain state onwards, they can only be slowed down.

Especially with contemporary artworks, an early identification and documentation of the specific polymers is therefore essential. It enables us to draw conclusions regarding the estimated ageing processes in order to minimise risks and develop appropriate strategies for their preservation, storage and presentation.

Within the frame of this pilot project, more than 150 sculptures, by Naum Gabo, Duane Hanson, Paul Thek, Mario Merz and Thomas Schütte among others, are examined and their condition assessed and documented. Complementary scientific analyses of selected artworks are performed successively.

Supported by: Förderstiftung Hamburger Kunsthalle and Wüstenrot Stiftung