3D Printing: Important for Art History, Not Just Weapons


While we have tended to emphasize the public policy issues surrounding 3D printing of weapons here at Reason, the technology is really a game-changer, as I hate to type, in so many fields: the ability to turn physical things into data and then back into other physical things has implications we will hopefully be spending the next few decades exploring, to our mutual joy.

Former Reason magazine Burton C. Gray Memorial Intern Cosmo Wenman is one of the men on the cutting edge of doing supercool things with 3D tech, and he's focusing on its art and archeological history implications, via a very interesting Kickstarter project that he calls Through a Scanner, Skulpturhalle.

To quote Wenman's press release on the project, he wants to:

3D-scan plaster casts of ancient Greek and Roman sculptures at The Skulpturhalle Basel museum in Basel, Switzerland [and] release the 3D scans and 3D printable models into the public domain, at no cost and copyright free, on Makerbot's Thingiverse 3D printing website, allowing anyone with a 3D printer to print their own copies….

The Skulpturhalle Basel museum holds a collection of approximately 2,000 high-quality plaster casts of ancient Greek and Roman sculptures, including the Venus de MiloWinged Victory, the Medusa Rondanini, and Athena Parthenos. Wenman has obtained the Skulpturhalle's permission to take hundreds of photographs of each work, then process the images into 3D-printable files ….. From there, artists and 3D printing enthusiasts can use the files to 3D print copies of their own, or create new derivative works. Teachers will be able to print copies for the classroom, giving students direct, hands-on access to the world's sculptural masterworks….

The project, seeking popular funding through a Kickstarter campaign which launched on June 6, is unusual as it will create a pure public good—rather than a commercial product—and the final products will be freely available online. ….

Cosmo has already been working hard in this field:

Wenman's 3D scanned and 3D printed adaptations of works from the British Museum, the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Tate Britain, the Getty Villa, the Louvre, and the Norton Simon museum have been displayed at the 2012 London 3D Print Show and the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show. His life-size, solid bronze adaptation of the Getty Villa's bust of Caligula was recently displayed as an example of digitization and 3D printed reproduction at a conference of museum curators at the Smithsonian. 

The future is here, and it has certain aspects that are kind of cool.

Jesse Walker blogged about an early stage of Wenman's project last year.