3D Printing, 3D Scanning and the Future of the Museum

Liz Neely and Miriam Langner from Museums and the Web have written an excellent article reflecting on the potential impacts of 3D printing in the world of museums – from an insider’s perspective. Neely and Langner’s  take on the subject has a positive undertone to it – it focuses on the key aspects related to the development and future forms that museums might take motored by 3D printing.

The article considers several relevant aspects related to the potentially vast symbiosis of museums and 3D printing and what it could mean in practice as hinted by a few applications to date. The model presented in the article is a forward thinking new paradigm for a sector traditionally not known for its adaptation rate of new tech. Neely and Langer recognize that 3D technologies, combining 3D printing and 3D scanning/modelling, could add value in such sectors as conservation, collection access and exhibition planning and education.

3D printing lesson Art Institute of Chicago (image courtesy of MW)

Other fundamental factors that make 3D printing interesting to museums are the rise of the maker movement in general and it’s underlying ethos of “return to materiality”, as the authors note. This of course can be interpreted as an increase in the general appreciation of the museum sector – a physical institution with the majority of pieces being some kind of tangible objects (though not always available for up close and personal tinkering compared to the maker mentality). Another point is related to the more intimate and personal interaction of visitors with artefact replicas — which 3D tech would enable — which is highly favourable compared with 2D conventional images of a particular object that is too fragile or valuable to have on display.

Besides conserving the old and/or recreating them in their physical form, Neely and Langner also recognize the potential of creating something entirely new – by combining elements from separate pieces of art in order to create something totally new – brining originality to the institution. This aspect is also especially related to social sharing – the natural need of a creator to provide other people with the opportunity to enjoy the artwork as well (note: generalizing here without going to the debate on the intrinsic de facto value of artwork regardless of an observer).

Tom Burtonwood's remix of 2 sculptures Art Institute of Chicago collection (image courtesy of MW)

The reason behind the schedule of the paper’s publication is partly related to MW2013 – the conference of Museums and the Web taking place next month on the 17-20 April in Portland, OR – but it is also due to the increasing awareness around 3D printing as reflected across the mass media, and striving to engage the consumer market.

It’s going to be interesting to see how the – sorry – somewhat stagnant museum sector will adapt to the new era of (re)creation, sharing and interacting. Regardless of the underlying attitudes, other existing examples of what can be achieved like the ancient whales from Chile or Ishtar’s temple lion show that the transition to a new 21st century mindset is already happening. The remaining core question might therefore be related to the timing and how long before more conventional institutes make the transition to 3D technology.

The full paper is available – for free – by hitting the source link below.

Source: Museums and the Web

All images courtesy of Museums and the Web

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