In his living room in San Diego right now, Cosmo Wenman has two life-sized reproductions of the British Museum’s Head of a Horse of Selene, a magnificently life-like sculpture with nostrils flared that dates to around 432 B.C. The original in Britain is made of marble, about three feet end-to-end. Wenman’s copies, created with an older digital camera and a MakerBot 3D printer, are clearly reproductions as soon as you lift them up. Created out of plastic, coated in a bronze patina, they weigh about 8 pounds each. For the last year or so, Wenman has been casing some of the world’s great sculptures for at-home replication, photographing them from every angle in plain sight inside the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the Louvre in Paris, the Tate Britain, the British Museum and a few others.
Wenman thinks 3-D printing could change the way we learn about and experience art:
Art museums have been scanning pieces like this for archival purposes for years. What’s new is that just about anyone can now walk into a gallery—assuming that photography is allowed—and do this, too. “To me,” Wenman says, “it seems very analogous to the potential behind the Napster-like free-for-all of unauthorized reproduction and sharing and remixing of music.”
Schoolchildren, he suggests, could reproduce their own art instead of flipping the pages in a text book. Artists could use the 3D designs to create modern sculpture inspired by famous antiquities, in much the same way that musicians sample each other. Smaller local museums, in particular, might use this as a way of drawing attention to little-known collections. And, of course, any 3D printing amateur could download these files to experience art that lives thousands of miles away.