The six sequences of ADAM’s collection, part 2: Plastics Utopia

In a six-part series published on our website every two months, we take a detailed look at the design collection housed in Brussels’ Art and Design Atomium Museum (ADAM) through the time-stamped sequences it uses in order to provide a more linear reading of its extensive selection, spawning mid-century innovations to current day creations. For the second instalment, exhibitions director Arnaud Bozzini discusses the Plastics Utopia, and the endless possibilities of the material.

In the Golden Sixties, during the Plastics utopia era, the enduring and unchanging qualities of wood and metals, beloved by modern designers, were sometimes replaced by plastic. An ephemeral and playful material, it seemingly has no identity of its own, yet celebrates transformation and adaptation.

“Plastic is like Zelig, that character of Woody Allen’s who transforms himself according to his surroundings and circumstances, assuming a huge variety of different appearances”, said Ezio Manzini, and reflects the essence of plasticity, the indeterminate quality possessed by this material, which makes it complex and hybrid.

An ephemeral and playful material, it seemingly has no identity of its own, yet celebrates transformation and adaptation.

Plastic can accomplish all the transformations anyone might require of it, taking the form of an animal, as with the Elephant armchair created by Rancillac (born in 1931) or a molar, as with Wendell Castle’s (born in 1932) chairs. Why shouldn’t furniture be a work of art? By the end of the 1960s, artists such as the American Wendell Castle, looked to obtain a colour finish similar to that of car paintwork and Castle abandoned wood in order to explore the sculptural qualities of fibreglass.

Plastic can accomplish all the transformations anyone might require of it.

It was the idea of the curatorial team to display and to explain in the second section of the Plasticarium collection how, with plastics, an artist or designer can do whatever he/she wants with colours and forms. Regarding this aspect, Roland Barthes in 1957 in Mythologies emphasised the iconic aspect of the alchemy of plastic: it does not possess an intrinsic, predetermined colour or form and therefore, through its metamorphoses, it adopts all the forms it is given.

ADAM’s current exhibition ‘The Bauhaus: #itsalldesign‘ runs until 11th June.