"It is lightweight, recyclable, classless, of global presence and as inconspicuous as practical. Like hardly any other material the cardboard box stands for almost unrestricted mobility of goods and people."
The usage of cardboards in art is not a discovery of the 20th century, in fact it looks back on a long and versatile traditon in the history of art. Whereas in the middleages it was primarily used as a template for tapestries, mosaics and scenery, Renaissance painters worked with lifesized drafts on cardboard (carton) for frescoes, which proved to be indispensable due to characteristic features of the technique. Cartons were used as orientation for the artist as well as his staff and students, who were involved in the production process. Since the cartons were exclusively created by the master, these often exceeded the virtuosity of the original. Even today cartons can be found in various museums, many of them are the last testimony of destroyed artworks. Despite the indispensability of the carton/cardboard in former centuries it was always subordinate by its function as a template. Initiated by the Industrial Revolution and the growing proliferation of the material, cardboards were used in modern art in a significantly different way. The use of it, especially in synthetic Cubism, was a way to evoke three-dimensionality, to extend the limits of painting and to show multiple perspectives simultaneously. Numerous collages and assemblages are evidence of these artistic experiments with the material. For Dadaism, which was contradictory in itself and which was directed against artistic conventions, cardboard with its materiality and usage specificity was particularly suited to distort meaningful relations and contexts. Cardboard had already found its way into the context of art in the first half of the 20th century, but wasn't raised to become the topic itself.
Starting in the 1960s/70s it got more and more attention in the world of art and found diverse uses in many artistic movements: As a poor because cheap and plentiful available material the italian movement Arte Povera used the aesthetic qualities of cardboard. But especially with the appearance of Pop Art, which elevated trivial and ordinary things to become art, cardboard found a symbolic meaning. Andy Warhol's Time Capsules show cardboard boxes with collections of receipts, labels, postcards, personal and trivial objects and therefore increases the cardboard box to a kind of relic of pop culture. But the usage of carboard reached its climax due to Robert Rauschenbergs' late working period, in which he used it solely for large-format assemblages, sculptures and installations - especially in his Cardboards and Cardbirds. For Rauschenberg cardboard was no longer a sheer accessory; the brown surface and wave-like structure became his main focus and his source of inspiration. Social, political and economic implications of cardboard have become the driving force behind his artistic exploration: "I still haven't been anyplace where there weren't cardboard boxes … even up the Amazon." (Rauschenberg 1991)
Up to today, cardboard provides an inexhaustible fund of aesthetic issues for contemporary artists.
 Sonna, Brigit: Brauner Raureif der Globalisierung, 09.05.2008, www.art-magazin.de. Translated by VAN HORN.
Ian Anüll has often responded with irony or even with refusal on the paradox between market critique and his own "production" This attitude is essential for the work "Cartoon Collection" and reflects semantic shifts between goods and their packaging. Anülls work is a collection of found cardboards with printed signs and inscriptions. These signs refer to the commodity character of the former content. Through conceptual transformation and presentation important shifts in meaning are taking place. As a result the relation between product and packaging is shifted and redirected.
Andrea Bowers' work focuses on climate justice and feminist subjectivity in art and activism. Her large drawing “I Am Nature: Champion International Clearcut; West Flank of the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness” (2013), made from collaged recycled cardboard with black marker monumentalizes environmental activist fliers and graphics. In this piece she reproduces a photocopied flier of a clearcut forest from an Eco-Defense zine, that enlarged, fluctuates between abstraction and representation. The approval of this clearcut was the result of lobbying by one of the largest paper producers in the USA as well as local politicians. It caused one of the first mass protests by environmental activists in the US.
Though made from cardboard and fibreglass, the works by Ernesto Burgos look like ceramic. The brisk, unplanned and gestural handling of the material manifests itself in the form of the object as well as in the chaotic painted surface with brushstrokes and spray paint. “In a way, Mr. Burgos is combining bad painting and bad sculpture to make something that is more than the sum of its parts.” (Roberta Smith)
Jürgen Drescher transforms, reproduces and immortalizes everyday objects in his aluminum casts. The implications of craftsmanship and everyday situations in his work open up abstract and atmospheric domains for which we are not prepared. "It confuses me completely when something looks as if it could break, it seems as if I am personally damaged, even if the material is not my mind or my body and it is a subject in its own terms." (Drescher) Drescher works with the material to the limits of its own recognizability. He gives the objects an ambiguous, unexpected appearance and casts doubts.
Dan Goldstein - actually an architect – designed a chair from recycled cardboard. Boxes are collected, stacked, cut, sculpted and folded into a strong, comfortable shell. A triangular steel base allows the chair to rock and recline. The Re-Ply comes from the simplest of forms – a folded piece of paper. Paper is relatively strong in tension, and folding it in half yields a seat and back for a chair. The chair follows the principle of the Bauhaus: form follows function.
At first glance Markus Karstieß' ceramic Boxes resamble plain cardboard cases. But a close examination reveals unexpected alchemistic, colored, shimmering material metamorphoses on the inside - a result of molten glass during the production process. Traces and gestures of artistic workmanship are combined with the unexpected behavior of the material in the kiln.
Due to the adaptation of everyday materials, like a moving box, and the accentuation of reproduction Martin Kippenberger questions with Haus Schloss Case the concept of artistic originality. Whenever everyday objects find their way into art, for example by Duchamp or Warhol, they evoke the impression to have been staged in the art context. Kippenberger reverses the order and simulates a return of something back to everyday life.
I'M A SLAVE 4 U - The subversive wit of his inflatable sculpture is a hallmark of Clive Murphy’s work. He appropriates and reconfigures familiar signifiers in order to explore their wider cultural resonance, uncovering new ground for the proliferation of diverse meanings. “I’m less interested in high culture/low culture distinctions than in an idea of a low/low thing,” Murphy says. “I’ve seen plenty of art that turns mundane or kitsch things into something high culture [...]. But what interested me much more than edifying a thing was to bring it only to the next rung of the ladder. To turn a cardboard box into an inflatable [as Murphy did in I'M A SLAVE 4 U], for example, is not a quantum leap up the hierarchy. It interests me to democratise in that way."
Robert Rauschenberg’s 1971 ‘Cardbird Series’ marked a notable change in the artist’s subject matter and material choices. In the 1970s Rauschenberg began to experiment with new mediums, focusing on natural fibers and drawing inspiration from his environment and the objects that surrounded him. For the ‘Cardbird Series’ Rauschenberg constructed seven cardboard sculptures, photographed them, printed the images with a lithographic press, and attached the prints to a cardboard support. Each of these cardboard imitations was a different ‘cardbird’ and was reproduced in editions of 75. The ‘Cardbird Series’ elevates and reframes the ordinary cardboard material in the context of modernism.
Heimo Zobernig started his career with small paintings and black-painted cardboard objects. His works are made of cheap materials such as pressboard, polystyrene or cardboard, some of them are unfinished and only partly painted. They often appear as models, simple prototypes or cheap dummys. For Zobernig they're not just makeshifts, on the contrary - he calls them "counterparts".