LACMA - The_Archetypes_Burst_In_x2_Cosmo_Wenman

In early 2014, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) opened its new Art + Technology Lab, and invited me to give its very first presentation. My talk was to a diverse cross-section of 50 LACMA staff members and was on the topic of 3D printing, 3D scanning, and opportunities for museums to use these new technologies to bring art to wider audiences.

The Lab has also recently revived LACMA’s Art + Technology grant program, which from 1967 to 1971 funded projects by artists such as Robert Irwin, James Turrell, Claes Oldenburg and Andy Warhol. The grant program’s goal is “to help artists take purposeful risks in order to explore new boundaries in both art and science” by supporting projects that, as LACMA puts it, “address issues at the intersection of culture and technology, provide opportunities for public engagement, and produce data, methods of models that might be of interest to other artists and technology developers.”

A few days prior to my talk there, I submitted a grant application for a project that would have put the concepts in my presentation into action. It would have put LACMA on the bleeding edge of art digitization and publishing—as well patronage of 3D digitization of the arts—and would have had important, long-lasting effects.

My proposal was rejected along with around 450 others’. You can read about the five winning proposals here.

Here’s my proposal, submitted January 27, 2014:


One sentence description of the work for which you are seeking support:

This project will 3D capture, 3D print, and freely publish online 3D surveys and 3D-print-ready digital models of iconic sculptural artwork in the public domain from LACMA and select participating museums and private collectors from Los Angeles and around the world.

Full description of the proposed project (250 word maximum):

The project will work with LACMA curators to select iconic sculptural works from LACMA’s collection that are in the public domain and use 3D photogrammetry and 3D laser scan technology to take 3D surveys of the pieces.

The 3D surveys will be corrected for errors and prepared for 3D printability and attractive onscreen, 3D orientable/navigable display. The raw 3D survey data, the edited 3D files, the 3D-print-ready models, and the onscreen display models will then be published online for download from LACMA’s website, copyright free, without restriction, for any reproductive or derivative use, academic or commercial.

The project will, with LACMA’s assistance, solicit collaborations with private collectors and other museums in Los Angeles and elsewhere to survey and publish as much 3D data from their collections as the project’s budget allows.

In addition to 3D surveys financed with project funds, the project will work with LACMA’s development staff to solicit direct support from select donors to sponsor the 3D capture and online publication of 3D surveys of specific works of the donors’ choice (including from their private collections). Such surveys would also be published as part of the project, but represent significant, high-profile naming opportunities for LACMA’s private and corporate donors and would demonstrate a method for LACMA and other institutions for raising funds for 3D digitization and publication for many years to come.

The project will produce a collection of physical 3D prints of select pieces from the survey results for display at LACMA and participating museums.

Please submit a bio of the principal artist or collective who will be responsible for this project:

A Southern California native and a lifelong informal art student, Cosmo Wenman studied economics at UCLA and has for the last several years been experimenting with emerging 3D capture, 3D design, and 3D printing technologies and phenomena. His current focus is on the 3D capture and online publication of sculptural antiquities and fine art. His groundbreaking work has been the focus of international press coverage from a diverse collection of pop culture, tech, art, and conservation-oriented media outlets..

Science fiction author and futurist Bruce Sterling calls Wenman’s work “propaganda of the deed.” Wenman’s museum-related works have been exhibited as cutting-edge demonstrations of the emerging possibilities of 3D capture and 3D printing technologies at the Consumer Electronics Show (“CES”), the London and Paris 3D Printshows, the Tokyo Winter Wonderfest, and the London Museum + Heritage show. His bronze cast, The Getty Caligula in Bronze, was presented to a conference of museum curators on the topic of 3D digitization at the Smithsonian, and his work was shown in the opening remarks at the 2013 SXSW. 3D prints of his surveys of Venus de Milo and Rodin’s Bellona were displayed at the recent London CYARK convention on digitizing cultural heritage, and several of his 3D prints of fossil hominid crania are part of Louise Leakey’s’s travelling 3D digitization/3D printing exhibition.

Most recently, Wenman has published the first publicly available, high-quality 3D surveys of Venus de Milo and The Nike of Samothrace, edging out the Louvre itself for this distinction. These 3D models have been downloaded tens of thousands of times in the few short weeks since their publication, and dozens of replicas have already been 3D printed by tech enthusiasts and art lovers around the world.

Wenman is currently wrapping up his project, Through A Scanner, Skulpturhalle, which aims to 3D capture and publish 3D surveys of 18th-century plaster casts of ancient Greek and Roman sculptures from the Skulpturhalle, Basel museum in Switzerland. The project will soon publish, for the first time, 3D surveys and 3D printable models the Medusa Rondanini, a bust of Athena of Velletri, a bust of the Borghese Ares, a bronze Portrait of Alexander the Great, and the Dancing Faun of Pompeii, among several others. An independent project under Wenman’s sole direction and creative control, the project was originally the subject of a Kickstarter fundraising campaign but was ultimately sponsored by Autodesk’s Reality Capture division, which provided financial and in-kind support.

Between 3D capture-and-publish projects, Wenman does consultation and freelance design and is working with partners to develop materials and processes for 3D printing and related industrial applications.

Please describe the artistic or creative merit of the proposed project (250 word maximum):

With 3D capture and 3D printing, museums and private collectors have an opportunity to turn their collections into living engines of cultural creation. They can digitize their three-dimensional collections and project them outward into the public realm to be endlessly adapted, multiplied, and remixed. These technologies offer a way to break great art free from its physical limitations and set it loose to come alive and reach and influence many more people in a vibrant, lively, and anarchic popular culture.

There are millennia of beautiful physical forms that can be digitized, propagated, and remixed over and over again in perpetuity. Forward-thinking museums and collectors can publish data that will form the basis for an unlimited combinatorial explosion of adaptation and novelty. The first collectors or museums to 3D capture and freely publish their collections will have an opportunity to be among the most influential art patrons and institutions of the next several hundred years.

There’s no predicting what artforms such digital scans will enable in the years that follow. Maybe the world’s back catalog of 3D art will show up lit in pixels on our screens, rematerialized in our living rooms, or embedded in our architecture or clothing. Mass 3D capture and publishing are the first steps towards finding out.

This is all going to happen one way or another. I know how to do it, and LACMA can help me light this fire.

Why do you consider this project to be a meaningful exploration of emerging technology? (100 word maximum):

Children growing up today with 3D printers in their homes and classrooms are on the verge of becoming the first generation to have their aesthetic sensibilities informed by direct, hands-on access to the world’s sculptural masterworks. Their cultural landscape and visual vocabulary will be richer, more complex, and more varied than ours. Sculpture and artifacts will speak to them in ways that have never before been possible.

Eventually, 3D printable designs of the entire world’s cultural heritage of sculptural masterworks will be available to everyone, and this project is an attempt to make that happen sooner rather than later.

In what ways does your project inspire dialogue about the issues at hand, including the relationship between technology and culture? (100 word maximum):

Like my previous work, this project will pique the interest of diverse popular media outlets, who will in turn engage their audiences and interrogate institutions including the Smithsonian, Musée Rodin, The Getty, and the Cantor Center for Visual Arts about their intentions in this important new field, and many of the issues this technology raises. (See links for recent examples.)

Dialogue my work inspires in popular press:

Libération: Tomorrow knocks at our door. Sculpture, too, will not escape the culture of sharing on the Internet.
The Atlantic: Rodin, meet Napster

More from ARTnews,, NPR, Public Knowledge, and Bloomberg View.

Please describe your proposed plan for public engagement. What opportunities do you foresee to share prototypes, demonstrations and process with the public? (100 word maximum):

The project will directly engage the public, who will use its data for 3D printing, onscreen representations, and other unanticipated media for novel educational, decorative, and entertainment purposes. 3D printed examples will be displayed at LACMA, as well as online visualizations on Some project surveys will be conducted in public and be open to the media, and LACMA will document the process. The project will earn intense media interest and increase public awareness and demand for other institutions to follow LACMA’s lead. The project’s engagement with the public will begin immediately and unfold over the next hundred years.

What data will your project produce that may be of interest to other artists, technologists, or arts organizations? (50 word maximum):

The project will produce high-quality 3D point-clouds, 3D meshes, texture maps, and 3D-printable models, along with thousands of photographs. All would be published freely online, and will be of great value to other museums, academic institutions, art schools, artists, art historians, as well as to the art-loving general public.

Please list any other sources of funding for this project, including in – kind support , and, if applicable, any conditions related to that funding or support:

I am certain that this project would enjoy considerable in-kind support from many leading companies in related fields. It is likely that expensive precision equipment would be made available at no cost, that a great deal of 3D-printed examples would be provided gratis, as well as 3D printers made available for demonstration purposes at no cost. I also anticipate highly skilled post-production 3D editing assistance would be provided by various software companies. All of this should be easy to arrange and would likely require nothing more from the project than simple acknowledgement of the support. (In fact, I have already enjoyed frequent in-kind support of this nature for much of what I have already done on related projects.) If any private collectors join in on the project, they may contribute funds on a piece-by-piece basis for surveys of their own collections or choice of works from LACMA and participating museums.

Total amount requested:


Detailed project budget (please include direct costs, including materials, software licenses, etc. and any artist fees as well as fees any other contributors to the project):

The project will need to gauge interest from potential participating museums and collectors, and determine how many pieces in total may be surveyed, their locations, and if or how participating museums’ own in-house photography or curation staffs may directly contribute to the effort.

The largest direct cost centers are likely to be travel and accommodations, the artist’s time (management, on-site execution and/or direction, post-production processing), and hiring assistance in digitally editing and preparing the 3D surveys for publication.

Hardware rental/purchase (camera, tripod, lighting) $6,200
Airfare, lodging, 3-4 remote museums $7,800
SoCal mileage $900
Photography (20 targets, direct photography or directing museums’ staff) $10,500
3D file processing (from 15-20 viable captures) $13,200
Model editing for life-size print demos + multiple scale variants (12 viable scans) $9,400
3D printed examples (management + materials) $2,600
Total: $50,000

If appropriate, please submit up to five images, schematics, renderings, etc. that represent the idea for your project (jpeg, PDF). Video files (.mov, m p 4) of less than 5 minutes in length will also be accepted.

Through A Scanner, Getty:
Through A Scanner, Skulpturhalle:
Response to Original Venus de Milo vs. 3D Printed Copy:
3D Printers Allow Home Replication of Famous Sculptures:
3D Printed/Bronze-Cast Matisse Bootleg at the Louvre:

Please provide an implementation plan delineated in a chart similar to the one below:

Key Milestone Start Date Funds Needed
Determine LACMA target objects w/LACMA curators 6/15/2014 $2,500
Solicit participation from donors w/LACMA dev. staff 7/15/2014 $1,000
Solicit and confirm participation of other museums, if any 7/15/2014 $1,000
3D surveys at LACMA 9/15/2014 $8,000
3D surveys at other LA museums + donors 10/15/2014 $8,000
3D surveys at remote museums 11/15/2014 $9,000
Editing, preparation of 3D data 12/15/2014 $9,000
3D print-proofing, 3D demo prints 1/15/2015 $9,000
Preparation of materials for publication (write-ups, etc.) 1/15/2015 $1,000
Publication of data on LACMA website 2/15/2015 $0
Display of example prints at LACMA 2/15/2015 $1,500

Thank you for your consideration.