Cast Courts, Interiors Buildings Cities (MSc II Research Studio together with Caspar Frenken)

Course description:

This MSc2 studio focuses on the tradition of plaster casts and their architectural presentation. Participants will trace the genealogy of casts, take on the process of making and replicating casts, study the history of their collection and presentation, and finally propose a new ‘cast court’ for an existing collection in the Netherlands.

Plaster casts, and the collections they make up, have changed purpose and meaning throughout history. Initially used as intermediate tools in the production of sculpture, they have served as a medium for the distribution of three-dimensional images and as autonomous works of art. From the advent of archaeology as a discipline, casts have been critical in the proliferation of ancient art and architecture. Providing an early canon of classical masterworks, private cast collections stood at the advent of art academies and modern musea, and instigated the economical reproduction of antiquities in the age of industrialisation.

Since the 17th century, distinct architectural forms developed to store and display casts, reflecting evolving attitudes towards collections and what they came to represent. In gypsotheques and cast courts, objects were shown in entirely new and changing contexts. Examples include John Soane’s Museum and the V&A’s Cast Court in London, the Museum für Abgüsse Klassischer Bildwerke in Munich, the Louvre’s Gypsothèque in Versailles, and Carlo Scarpa’s Museo Canova in Possagno.

Over the 20th century, collections were silently moved into storage, sold, or simply destroyed. The diverse reasons for this development include the rejection of a western canon of art which these casts had come to represent and re-enforce, the twentieth-century veneration of the original and the consequent rejection of casts as worthless copies.

In recent years, there has been a renewed interest and revaluation of surviving plaster casts collections. Departing from recent academic research into the making, distribution and display of plaster casts in the 18th and 19th century, this studio takes on a practical approach. Participants engage in the making of new plaster casts and design a new space for an existing casts collection in the Netherlands. Working directly with the historical material, the studio explores the ambiguous position of the plaster cast throughout history as a mass medium, artwork, industrial tool and educational device.

Participants are recommended to develop the studio project in partnership with a history or theory thesis, pursued from the beginning of the semester, in connection to one of the studio’s themes, such as the rise of archeology and the study of fragments, the question of the copy and the original, the spread of neoclassicism and its media, the art and practice of moulding and plaster casting, cultures of display and the interaction between sculpture and architecture.

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