Reactor

Get Ready for the Flood of 3D Printed Objects

by Hrag Vartanian on December 10, 2012

Left, Micah Ganske’s “Mining Habitat” (2012) at Miami Projects and, right, Tom Burtonwood’s limited edition “Rmutt” PEZ dispenser at Fountain Art Fair. (all images by the author for Hyperallergic)

I have a prediction. In the next few years, the art world will be awash in 3D printed objects. I noticed a number this year at the Miami art fairs but they were certainly limited in quantity. There is nothing particularly new about 3D printed objects but their use as “art” that can be sold in the marketplace is something that is not fully established in the field.

Earlier this year I spotted Alfred Steiner’s “Erased Schulnik (Diptych)” (2010), which had already suggested to me that the 3D revolution was upon us, so what I saw in Miami was only further proof that the inevitable flood of printed objects was near.

Tom Burtonwood’s small PEZ dispenser was on display at Front Room Gallery at Fountain Art Fair. A small joke on Marcel Duchamp’s infamous “Fountain” object (not to mention a wink at the art fair itself), the head of the candy dispenser was a well-articulated 3D printed object. If it wasn’t for the small groves on the edges — something most 3D printers haven’t been able to hide — I would’ve never known the urinal was printed and not molded or made using some other process.

But then I saw Micah Ganske’s “Mining Habitat” (2012) at RH Gallery and I was certainly impressed. Using his Makerbot Replicator, Gansky assembled roughly 1,000 different parts and used over 700 hours of print time to create this detailed object on display at the Miami Project art fair. The medium and idea were well-suited for one another. Sci-fi space visions of an industrialized future spit out of a machine seemed like a good fit. It was detailed, textured, and if someone didn’t tell me it was printed, then I doubt I would’ve ever really known.

One of the biggest costs for galleries traveling to Miami — or any art fair — is shipping. The idea that you could conjure up an object without having to ship it (perhaps even melt it down or shred it if it doesn’t sell) sounds like an attractive prospect.

Related: “Digital sculpture as printable graffiti” (Vandalog)

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  • MicahGanske

    Thanks Hrag, I’m glad you liked the sculpture! I think the biggest barrier to more artists using the technology is how complex the software is though. It will be interesting to see how fast others are to adopt the tech into their studio practice.

    • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

      Did you foresee other obstacles for artists in using the printer?

      • MicahGanske

        Right now, making large sculptures with these printers is like making paintings with old dot-matrix printers of the ’80s. You’re limited in what you can do and still have to put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into the fabrication. These objects will be relics and time capsules of this technology at its current state and I think that’s pretty cool.

        I think there will be plenty of artists that use this technology but do so in predictable ways (making multiples for different installation projects, or creating simple mash-up objects or distortions of found models online). For more complex, unique objects, it requires more training in the software than most fine artists are willing to endure. I think this will change as the software gets better and more intuitive. We’re already starting to see some easy to use apps like the 123D suite from Autodesk for iPad that make digital scanning and sculpting extremely easy.

        The printers are improving very quickly as well, and the scale and materials you’ll be able to print in will get more varied for the desktop printers. Eventually, we’re going to reach the point where a printer will be able to not only copy the relief of the paint on a surface, but the actual surface and color itself in perfect emulation.

        At that point, art and all other objects, become purely a matter of intellectual property. The world of buying things is going to get really weird when a work of art or a microprocessor can be pirated as easily as an mp3. I have no idea how the world will adapt to the technology but the DRM will have to be intense! It all leads to the best or worst possible sci-fi future and it’s really exciting to know I’ll be able to see it all play out in my lifetime. Whether you welcome it or fear it, the Singularity is inevitable in one form or another so we all need to think about what that means for our professions.

        • http://twitter.com/iberob Robert Cicetti

          Will the impending 3D printing boom change sculpture the way color
          photography, digital imaging changed photography? Will the same burden
          placed on painting these days (justifying it’s means as Thomas Micchelli
          recently stated http://bit.ly/TLjhDm) be placed on sculpture built from scratch and not a CAD model?

          I’m glad enough 3D printed work is making its way into the wild to
          justify this discussion. I agree that it’s only a matter of time before
          we see more of it. Certainly, artists will use the technology for the
          sake of novelty, but there are more practical reasons (time, money,
          space) that offer long-term advantages. Soon enough, it’ll be hard to
          tell the difference between something handmade and 3D printed, which will only elevate work that defies reproducibility.

          • Daniel Platt

            There’s an idea: striving to make art no machine can print! I like it; there are a lot of rumors that 3D printing will wipe out manufacturing jobs (http://empiricalmag.blogspot.com/2012/12/december-excerpt-creative-disruption-by.html) and send the design industry for a tailspin, but for art, there will be no such problem if you can stay ahead of the technology. In the end, creative people will always make the tools work for them, not the other way around.

      • Sophie Kahn

        I agree with Micah, the software aspect is still pretty painful, and access to good, high-resolution 3d printers can be a barrier for artists.

        I’ve been using 3d printing in my sculptural work for almost a decade, and have found that there are still archival concerns with many 3d printed materials. Sintered plastics can yellow, and all plastics will eventually age and become brittle. For now I solve the problem by casting in metal and ceramic (like this bronze, which was in a show reviewed by Hyperallergic a few months ago – http://bit.ly/R9R9pj), but I look forward to the day when I can skip that step. We’re starting to see 3d printing in metal, but the scale and resolution is still very limited.

        • http://www.facebook.com/peterneu Peter Neu

          Sophie,
          very interesting to see your two versions side by side. I did something similar with a small nude figurative which I printed in plaster, after which I sanded down the digital edges (though the printing layers/lines are still visible). I was surprised to find many people couldn’t quite figure out if it were stone or what. Only those familiar with the process seemed to know. I then made a version where I literally clothed the plaster version in clay making the figure non-nude and casting in bronze. The nude version displays it’s process while the bronze does not and thus alludes to more classic sculpture making. (both now cost about the same to reproduce.) I’m not sure which one people respond to better…most people are too busy giggling at the penis on the plaster version to care.

          I’ll be curious to see whether artists choose to display it’s ‘digitalness’ or not as it becomes an aesthetic choice that may or may not resound with a work. I certainly don’t care for seeing photoshop in a photo as it becomes about photoshop in a photo. As for Micah’s concern about understanding the software…I don’t think that necessarily matters, as long as they can understand it’s possibilities. After all, the concept and design will be much more important than who fabricates it. It can always be outsourced! As for art becoming cheap and ubiquitous…I doubt it….there may be more good knock offs…but if you’re in the business of knock offs, I’m betting you’d prefer something more mass market….like hand bags and sneakers. And you can bet if someone pays millions for a pre-digital work they’ll spend money to litigate against copiers (as would the artist or foundation or gallery.) In the end, like photos or sculptures which are already easily reproduced, collectible work will have to be editioned. If 3D printing becomes uber cheap (like print, show, shred, toss), then there will have to be content surrounding the object itself and that will likely be the identifying ‘artistic’ character of the work.

          Okay, well I’m running long now.

          Plaster version image attached.

  • Guest

    Will the impending 3D printing boom change sculpture the way color photography, digital imaging changed photography? Will the same burden placed on painting these days (justifying it’s means as Thomas Micchelli recently stated http://bit.ly/TLjhDm) be placed on sculpture built from scratch and not a CAD model?

    I’m glad enough 3D printed work is making its way into the wild to justify this discussion. I agree that it’s only a matter of time before we see more of it. Certainly, artists will use the technology for the sake of novelty, but there are more practical reasons (time, money, space) that offer long-term advantages. Soon enough, it’ll be hard to tell the difference between something handmade and 3D printed. I think that will ultimately elevate work that defies reproducibility.

    • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

      So true, Robert. And I think most artists don’t even have their hands on the really good 3D printers which are pricey but mindblowingly amazing. Wait till that happens. But I’m curious if it will make art more affordable (think Ikea) or more pricey (because of hand finishes on sculpture, etc.). Only time will tell.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tomburtonwood Tom Burtonwood

    Hrag, thanks for the props – glad you got to see the piece at Fountain. i think from my pov 3d printing is among other things a connective technology that allows artists / makers / hackers etc to combine objects and ideas that hitherto would have been too expensive or difficult to achieve. with digital fabrication comes limitless variability, in sense we have come full circle back to the start of the industrial revolution. we can stamp out a thousand objects that all look the same, or we can iterate a thousand slightly different forms each one different from the last — and the cost to the maker will stay more or less the same as making a thousand the same – a feat impossible even today with injection molding and or traditional mass production techniques. So that’s a big deal. We’re in a bespoke everything moment. Also the cost of failure is shrinking. the ability to prototype objects cheaply is here, just as with software makers can experiment and iterate via the 3d printer, just like app developers and software geeks have been doing with code. the Rmutt piece is a great example of using an existing system / technology ie the candy dispenser and attaching to it an art piece – something PEZ would never do – but for which there exists a market as proven by the interest it has gathered in Miami and elsewhere.

    in terms of access i’d encourage everyone who wants to learn / make with 3d printer to check out http://tinkercad.com and http://123dapp.com/catch. Tinkercad is an awesome 3d modeler that exports tight STLs and is so so easy to use it’s not even funny. it does boolean subtraction and unions, can be produce scripted objects and import STL’s. it’s a no brainer for the beginner. Same with Catch – go find your fav statue and scan it. Download an app called Meshmixer, clean it up and u can print it. openSCAD is really cool too, it’s free, open source. it’s a programmers 3d modeler. all lines of code not interface to speak of. Much less intimidating than a 3d animation package perhaps. i think part of the fun with 3d printing is the open-ness and availability of software and apps to get you started. We’re going to be opening a 3d printing store / learning lab early next year where we plan to teach all these tools to anyone who is interested and signs up for a class.

    But also i think you’re going to see and influx of 3d modelers, animators, architects and engineers all making forays into the art world using their mad ninja 3d skills to create wonderful sculptures and art works. So in that sense it’s going to open things up to a whole new audience and constituency. But i think you will also see artists engaging with these tools much more readily. My students love Sculptris for example, they have made some amazing digital sculptures with little of no training – simply following online tutorials and relating the digital experience to real world plastic modeling with clay and such.

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