Last month I went to Paris. I didn’t go to do research at the Louvre, or to attend a special exhibition at the Centre Pompidou, I went to the POPArt Conference, an international symposium on the conservation of plastic materials. The conference was the culmination of a European Union funded initiative, and like Contemporary Art: Who Cares?, it is another example of the way that European governments are supporting the conservation of contemporary cultural heritage in a way that the U.S. government does not. The goal of POPArt was to improve the conservation of plastic objects in European museums and to establish recommended practices for exhibiting, cleaning, and restoring these artifacts .
When people think about plastics, their minds don’t typically jump to museum collections. But in reality museums are filled with plastic artifacts and artworks made with plastic components. Artists and designers choose them for their working properties and aesthetic qualities that cannot be achieved with other materials. Some works in the IMA’s collection that are made with plastics include Tara Donovan’s Untitled (Mylar), Valentine Typewriter designed by Ettore Sottsass II and Perry King, and Rudi Gernreich’s wool and vinyl Dress. These are just a few examples and our holdings are only growing as we are rapidly acquiring many new objects in our Design Arts, Textile and Fashion Arts, and Contemporary Art departments.