Views and Reviews


Caroline Villers Research Fellowship Lecture – ‘Masking Tape: From Innovators to Early Adopters and Majority Groups’

Tuesday, 28 May, 2013 by Kerry Doran

Dr Pia Gotschaller presented her most recent findings on the history and use of masking tape in modern and contemporary art on Thursday 9 May in the Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre. This lecture was the second of a three part series on the subject, as Dr Gotschaller continues her research as the Caroline Villers Research Fellow.

The terminology of the title, ‘Masking Tape: From Innovators to Early Adopters and Majority Groups,’ is borrowed from innovation theory used by product developers. Although Dr Gotschaller was not aligning her research with this theory, it was useful as a framework to understand how products are initially developed and then how people begin using these products in their daily lives. Innovators and early adopters are the first two groups to test out new products, so Dr Gotschaller borrowed this concept and applied it to artists using masking tape in their practice. Before determining who these artistic innovators and early adopters might be, it was first necessary to research the history of pressure-sensitive tape manufacture. By establishing a timeline of its development, she could then work with this chronology to see which artistic practices coincided with the product as it developed. Moreover, research of tape’s manufacture enabled a better understanding of its materiality, which provided valuable insight into the specific results the product yielded.

Dr Gotschaller then shifted her discussion to artists using masking tape in the 1930s and 1940s, including Piet Mondrian, Harry Holtzman, Charles Shaw, and Max Bill, describing the varying ways they employed pressure-sensitive tapes. For instance, while Mondrian only used masking tape to plan his De Stijl grids, tracing his compositional arrangements in charcoal before painting, Max Bill opted for Scotch magic tape for its compatibility with oil paint.

While artists working with masking tape in the late thirties and into the early forties could be considered the product’s innovators, many Concrete and Neo-Concrete artists in South America could then be described as early adopters. It is likely that these artists were exposed to Bill’s work in the 1950s when he exhibited in Brazil and consequently incorporated pressure-sensitive tape into their practices. A recent exhibition in Madrid, Concrete Invention, brought together the work of many of these Argentinean, Brazilian, and Venezuelan artists, along with works by Albers, Bill, and Mondrian, so that Dr Gotschaller could compare works of those artists who used tape and those who did not.

The next phase of research for Dr Gotschaller and her team will entail testing individuals’ perceptions of paintings made with masking tape and those made without, the hypothesis being that people will be able to tell with relative certainty which method an artist used. This then calls into question what the further implications of using masking tape, the motivations of its innovators and early adopters, and the almost subconscious aesthetic effect of mechanistically straight lines in relation to growing urbanism and Modernism itself. But for now, research remains in its initial stages, exploring and discovering the process of artists who used an everyday material that we often take for granted.

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