Smithsonian 3D Scans Records Request

Cosmo Wenman
Mar 8, 2015 · 4 min read

By Cosmo Wenman, March 8, 2015

Over the last couple years, I’ve taken an interest in 3D scans that museums and universities keep under lock and key.

There are many high-quality 3D scans of important artworks and artifacts that have not been made available to the general public, even though the underlying works are in the public domain. Here are a few examples I’m aware of, including Michelangelos, Donatellos, and Rodins: bit.ly/1wYua54

Keeping this data private seems at odds with the institutions’ public missions, which generally seek to advance appreciation and understanding of those same works.

With all the good press the Smithsonian has earned by sharing 3D scans, I wondered whether they too had notable unpublished 3D data.

Also, I am curious how the Smithsonian is prioritizing their 3D survey work. In my view, the fossils and Americana they’ve been concentrating on are bloodless. They lack edge.

The Smithsonian has many works that, if scanned and shared online, would make waves in the art world. Modern era bronzes, for example. Degas, Rodins, and Bugattis that could be 3D printed and cast in bronze, in high-quality, unlimited editions.

I don’t envy anyone tangled in the politics I imagine must be at work here, but I am very interested to see this knot cut.

Since the Smithsonian follows disclosure policies similar to those required by the Freedom of Information Act, in May 2014 I sent the Smithsonian’s Office of General Counsel a records request for any 3D surveys of the works listed below, which are all in the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn museum.

Constantin Brancusi Sleeping Muse I, 1909–1910 Prometheus, 1911

Rembrandt Bugatti European Bison, 1907 Hamadryas Baboon, 1910 Indian Rhinoceros, 1910 Great Royal Tiger, 1913

Edgar Degas Dancer: Arabesque on Right Leg, Left Arm in Line, c.1877–1885 Picking Apples, c.1881 Dancer At Rest, Hands On Hips, Right Leg Forward, c.1881–1890 Dancer Moving Forward, Arms Raised, Right Leg Forward, c.1882–1895 Dancer Moving Forward, Arms Raised, c.1882–1898 Woman Rubbing Back with a Sponge (Torso), c.1888–1892 Sick Man in the Hospital, 1889 Dancer Holding Right Foot in Right Hand, c.1890–1911 Dancer Holding Right Foot in Right Hand, 1896 Woman Washing Left Leg, 1896–1911 Woman Getting Out of Bath, c.1896–1911 The Masseuse, c.1896–1911 Dancer Putting on Stocking, c.1896–1911 Woman Stretching, c.1896–1911 Seated Woman Wiping Left Hip, c.1896–1911 The Bow, c.1896–1911 Seated Woman Wiping Her Left Side, c.1896–1911 Woman Arranging Her Hair, c.1896–1911 Pregnant Woman, c.1896–1911

Paul Gaugin Hina with Two Attendants, 1892 Torso of a Tahitian Woman, c.1892 Mask of a Woman, c.1893–1895

Manolo Seated Nude, 1912 Seated Nude, 1912 Grape Harvester, 1913 Woman and Child, 1914

Henri Matisse Bust of an Old Woman, 1900 The Serf, 1900–1903 Anatomical Figure: Copy after Puget’s “Écorché”, 1903 Reclining Figure in Chemise, 1906 Marguerite, 1906 Reclining Nude I, 1906–1907 Two Women, 1907–1908 Decorative Figure, 1908 The Serpentine, 1909 Back I, 1909 Back II, 1913 Back III, 1916–1917 Seated Nude: Olga, 1910 Head of Jeannette I, 1910 Head of Jeannette II, 1910 Head of Jeannette III, 1911 Head of Jeannette IV, 1911 Head of Jeannette V, 1913 The Dance, 1911

Elie Nadelman Head of a Woman, c. 1907–1908 Head of a Man, c. 1913

Pablo Picasso Mask of a Picador with a Broken Nose, 1903 Head of a Woman (Fernande Olivier), 1905 Head of a Jester, 1905 Bust of a Man (Josep Fondevila), 1906 Head of a Woman (Second State Modified), 1906 Kneeling Woman Combing her Hair, 1906 Head of a Woman, 1906–1907 Mask of a Woman, 1908 Seated Woman, 1908 Head of a Woman (Fernande Olivier), 1909

Pierre-Auguste Renoir Small Venus Victorious, with Base Showing the Judgment of Paris, 1913 Renoir, Mme., 1916 Boy with a Flute (Pipe Player), 1918 Dancer with a Tambourine I, 1918 Dancer with a Tambourine II, 1918

Auguste Rodin Mask of The Man with a Broken Nose, 1864 Portrait of Docteur Thiriar, 1872 Third Architectural Model for “The Gates of Hell”, 1880 Crouching Woman (Small Version), 1880–1882 Crouching Woman, 1880–1882 She Who Was Once The Helmet-Maker’s Beautiful Wife, 1880–1885 Head of Sorrow, 1882 Head of Sorrow (small version), 1882 The Burghers of Calais, 1884–1889 Right Hand (Medium-Size), c.1885–1910 Woman with Crab, c.1886 Head of St. John The Baptist, 1887 Iris, Messenger of the Gods, 1890–1891 Monument to Balzac, 1891–1898 Half-Length Portrait of Balzac, 1892 Head of Balzac, 1897 Head of Baudelaire, 1898 Walking Man, 1900 Gustav Mahler, 1909 Torso of a Young Woman, 1909 Etienne Clementel, 1916 Day, n.d.

In May 2014, the Smithsonian responded to me, informing me that none of these works had been 3D scanned. Disappointing, no?

Who will be the first to publish high-quality 3D scans of these works?

All of them are from before 1923 and therefore likely in the public domain. The Bugattis, Degas, and Rodins certainly are, and as I pointed out in my presentation to LACMA more than a year ago, there are multiple bronze casts of each of these scattered around the world. One way or another, they will eventually be scanned, and those scans will be put to all sorts of uses — academic, artistic, and commercial.

The only questions are who will do the scanning? Will the scans be made and the data presented with a curator’s care? Will the data be stolen, leaked, wrangled loose, or made freely available to everyone from the outset?

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