Oliver Laric’s 2016 exhibition “Photoplastik” at the Secession in Vienna consisted of 3D prints made from digital scans the artist makes available for free on the website threedscans.com. The exhibition’s title refers to late nineteenth-century mechanical and chemical processes used to produce sculptural objects as well as the illusion of a relief surface on photographic prints. At the center of “Photoplastik” was the sculpture Beethoven, a matte-white polyamide 3D print installed exactly where sculptor Max Klinger’s monument to the composer debuted in 1902. Laric’s nearly life-size replica of Klinger’s work comprises twenty-five printed rectangular panels assembled together, seams visible, in a manner that recalls the fitted assemblage of the luxurious materials used in the original. It was the polychromatic fusion of those precious materials— alabaster, onyx, and opal, to name a few—that made Klinger’s Beethoven a sensation when it was first shown at the Secession. Laric’s pale monochromatic interpretation underscores the contemporary place of sculpture in relation to synthetic material plasticity and the ubiquity of photographic and digital reproduction.
Laric’s request to scan Klinger’s sculpture at the Museum of Fine Arts Leipzig, where it is held, was rejected. The museum stated that the “the essence of the historic work” would be lost in his artistic appropriation of it. Except, Max Klinger had been dead for more than seventy years at the time of Laric’s request and his sculpture was therefore no longer subject to copyright. The museum did have the right to restrict visitors from photographing the work, but Laric discovered there is no legal restriction prohibiting him from appropriating existing photographs. With this realization, he used hundreds of found photographs to construct a 3D scan using photogrammetry software. It was from this resulting photogrammetric scan that he was able to print “his” Beethoven.
Art historian Megan R. Luke writes in a forthcoming essay for the journal kritische berichte (Bd. 48 No. 3, October 2020):
“Laric reminds us that sculpture today has no place, existing as it does somewhere between the online data torrent and the 3D print of rendered mash-up fantasy. And through his spectral remediation of the Beethoven, we might begin to consider to what extent the uncanny placelessness of sculpture in the digital age is a residue of the legacy of the extracative economies and archaeological campaigns engendered by European imperialism. Could data piracy interrupt the mimetic masquerade of contemporary Photoplastik by transforming its replicas into agents for cultural restitution and the repatriation of artifacts instead?”
An exhibition focused on the work of Max Klinger was held at the Museum of Fine Arts Leipzig earlier this year. Under new directorship, the museum that had once rejected Laric's request to scan Klinger's Beethoven included a version of Laric's sculpture in its show dedicated to the artist. The version Laric exhibited in Leipzig, unlike the entirely white sculpture at the Secession, comprised a number of translucent parts. From each scan Laric produces, a hypothetically infinite number of unique sculptures can be made using different materials and combinations. Laric's Beethoven will travel to Bundeskunsthalle Bonn for the Klinger exhibit "Klinger 2020" (on view October 16 - January 31, 2021).
The potentially limitless reproducibility of the Beethoven is exemplified by the images below created by visitors to threedscans.com.