Art March 2019
Sculpture in the age of the 3D scan
On controversies over scans of museum objects.
In 1998, the late Paul Allen of Microsoft paid a group of students and faculty from Stanford and the University of Washington to travel to Florence to obtain 3D scans of sculptures by Michelangelo. The group’s primary focus was David, now housed inside the Galleria dell’Accademia. It obtained scan data occupying sixty gigabytes of digital storage, from which, using a 3D printer, one can create extraordinarily accurate copies of the sculptures.
The question soon became, who controls the project’s data? When the work was completed, Marc Levoy, who has since retired from Stanford’s Computer Science faculty, appointed himself guardian. Access is now determined by his opinion of both the scholarly bona fides and the planned uses of those seeking it.
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