The Deutsche Kunststoff-Museum (German Plastics Museum)
It is hard to imagine a product that has changed the material culture of the 20th century so significantly and which shapes that of the 21st century as much as modern plastics. However, the recognition of plastic-based products as a part of our culture and cultural history is still in its nascency. In the public perception, plastic still retains a stigma of a cheap and substitute material. And who goes into a museum to see yoghurt containers?
Since 1986, the Kunststoff-Museums-Verein (Plastics Museum Association) has worked to compile the history of plastics, collect its relics and put them on exhibit. Today the association has around 300 members. Companies and organisations from the industry, scientific institutions, collectors of historical plastics and a multitude of other interested individuals support the idea of the German Plastics Museum. The association has been located in Dusseldorf since 1995, as Messe Düsseldorf, host of the most important plastics convention worldwide, became a supporter.
A museum must have a collection. It contains approximately 14,000 objects from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. It documents both precursor materials, such as shellac, casein plastics and celluloid, as well as numerous examples of today’s dominant, fully-synthetic plastics. Industrial design classics as well as everyday mass-produced items, prototypes, material samples, and plastic processing machines are part of this collection.
Bakelite telephones, Nyltest shirts and the first, enormous mobile phones – depending upon the age of the observer – evoke feelings of nostalgia and prompt a positive consideration of the material.
80% of the objects are inventoried and comprehensively documented with photographs in a computer databank. This provides an outstanding research instrument in which objects can be browsed for various questions with regard to technology, design and everyday history.
A Museum “on Tour“
Unfortunately, this unique treasure trove, up to now the only one in Germany, can only be seen intermittently and in segments, as a permanent home has not yet been found for the museum.
Since 2003, there has been a concept for a mobile museum. With themed travelling exhibits, plastics can be displayed in an entertaining and interesting manner, so as to appeal to a young audience as well.
Previously, there have been four exhibits on display at public spaces like shopping malls, bank foyers, theatres and universities.
These real exhibitions are complemented by the “Virtual Museum“ on the Internet. On the website of the association (www.deutsches-kunststoff-museum.de), more than 7,000 objects of the collection may be viewed in text and image.