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Thanks to online platforms like Google Art Project and institutions releasing more and more images on the web for free, the general public has access to museum collections in ways they never have before. But what if you could do more than just remix images of objects in a collection — what if you could 3D print the objects themselves?
For a project called “Lincoln 3D Scans,” artist Oliver Laric worked with the Collection Museum and Usher Gallery in Lincoln, UK, to make some of their pieces available in just that way. Laric sorted through their archives and chose dozens of objects to scan, from busts of Beethoven, Dante, and Einstein to pieces of furniture to a human pelvis bone. He then created 3D models of the objects, which he collected and published online. Each of the 52 pieces on Laric’s site — which is currently being highlighted as a “First Look” online exhibition by the New Museum — is presented in the form of a rotating GIF, stripped of color and looking like a kind of digital styrofoam version of itself. Underneath the GIFs are some basic identifying details and a button to download the scan as an STL file. Using that file, you can print the object yourself.
“The project aims at making the collection available to an audience outside of its geographic proximity and to treat the objects as starting points for new works,” Laric explains on the site’s Info page. “All models can be downloaded and used without copyright restrictions.” In other words, go forth, remix, and copy, with the museum’s blessing.
Laric actually has a note on the Info page asking people to email him when they’ve used the models or re-created them in some fashion, and the site’s Gallery displays the results. They’re a mixed bag, from an uninspiring video that zooms in, out, and around one of the objects cast in silver to a delightfully trippy animated GIF of Einstein’s head. Most people don’t seem to have printed out the objects (I suppose 3D printers are not that ubiquitous just yet) but rather have taken to animating and toying with them in virtual 3D space.
One of the most successful of these is a surrealist take by an artist named Cyril, who’s plopped an oversized version of Ella Rose Curtois’s 19th-century sculpture of a marble player in the middle of an early-20th-century city street. Someone else named Boris Quezada has either printed out the same marble player and photographed it in his home or else Photoshopped it there. The sculpture is starkly white and looks wonderfully incongruous in its bland surroundings, raising a host of questions about the nature and value of copies and originals in our image-saturated culture. Museums will always be special places to visit, but there’s something strange and exciting about the possibility of bringing the museum home to you.