Slate on the Problems Preserving Plastic Art

Slate had an interesting article back in July 2009 on the problems faced by museums trying to preserve plastic art and artifacts,

The problem of preserving plastics isn’t limited to highbrow art. Not long after The Graduate debuted, manufacturers around the world began to incorporate synthetic polymers into their goods. As plastics revolutionized the making of furniture, toys, health care products, and electronics, museums of industry, design, and medicine began snapping up plastic objects that were either historic (the first artificial heart) or culturally important (Barbie dolls). Plastics hold up well for the decade or so during which a consumer uses most products. But museums, unlike consumers, are in it for the long haul, and when plastics crash, they crash precipitously. As a result, museums of all sorts have been having Gabo moments in the past decade.

The casualty list is appalling: Antique plastic dolls at the National Museum of Denmark have begun to peel and flake; classic furniture at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London might as well have been left out in the sun for years; the first-ever plastic toothbrush, at the Smithsonian, is collapsing into a pile of crumbs; etc. A whole generation of irreplaceable items that are as representative of our culture as pottery or flintheads were of ancient ones are dying—and many people charged with their care have no idea how to stop further damage.

And, for the most part, Slate says there isn’t really much of a solution. Plastics simply don’t last as long as other compounds and there are a whole host of challenges they face, including mold and bacteria that have evolved to eat plastic!

So I guess my action figure collection won’t likely make it to the next century. Maybe the solution will be instead of buying the actual plastic object, buying the plans to replicate it on something like MakerBot and then simply print a new one as the old one begins to degrade. Store data, not atoms.

It’s Not Easy Being Green . . . and Crucified

The Catholic Church is apparently a bit unhappy over this sculpture currently being displayed in an Italian museum that depicts a green frog being crucified while it holds a beer mug in one hand and an egg in the other.

The sculpture, Zuerst die Fuess is by the late German sculptor Martin Kippenberger. The Vatican wrote a letter in Pope Benedict’s name supporting efforts by Italian politician Franz Pahl to have the sculpture removed from the state-supported museum where it is being displayed. In portions of the letter released by Pahl, the Vatican complains that the sculpture “wounds the religious sentiments of so many people who see in the cross the symbol of God’s love.”

According to the Associated Press, Kippenberger apparently considered the sculpture “a self-portrait illustrating human angst.” Um, yeah, why else would the frog be holding an egg in one hand?

On the one hand, it is always a bit strange to see people who allegedly have the Supreme Creator of all things brought low by something as ridiculous as a frog on a stick (or whatever the allegedly blasephemous item of the day is).

On the other hand, in Western societies generally the Vatican’s letter writing is about the limit of its power to actually remove the offending item. This was not always the case, and, of course, in many parts of the world a similar item — say portraying Mohammed as a green frog — would likely end up with museum officials in prison or worse.

What Passes for Art

This AFP story on an art museum mishap has to have one of funniest open paragraphs in recent memory,

A giant inflatable dog turd by American artist Paul McCarthy blew away from an exhibition in the garden of a Swiss museum, bringing down a power line and breaking a greenhouse window before it landed again, the museum said Monday.

Well, at least McCarthy is up front about the value of his “art.”