Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Big, bigger, biggest | small, smaller, smallest

Art has always needed copies, bigger copies and smaller ones. The recent exhibition Portable classic at the Prada Foundation in Venice demonstrates the making-small approach. It lined up an original (well, a Roman copy of a Greek original) giant sculpture of Hercules with a series of ten or so ‘copies’ of it from different periods, each one of diminishing size. To create each of them someone had to scale the original down. 

It’s a skill that has been essential since sculpture was invented although now it’s being replaced by digital tools. But not everywhere. Today we met someone who spends his time scaling objects up and he does it the old way. By measuring, looking, transferring and making subtle changes, Michael Kaul builds large sculptures from small maquettes. He told us that he can scale up a three-dimensional object for about half the cost of doing it digitally. The devil certainly is in the detail. It’s not enough to enlarge something two or three or four times. Minor imperfections that might well go unnoticed in a small-scale version can emerge as disturbing errors when they are writ large. And there’s the problem of point of view. People see large objects differently so the final enlarged  ‘copy’ cannot simply be a copy but has to be an interpretation of what the object ‘should’ look like when it is big. And that is not always the same as how it would look. It’s complicated.

Images: Left, versions of the giant Farnese Hercules at the Prada Foundation exhibition Portable classic. Left top, the traditional tool for scaling-up, the ruler. Bottom, Michael Kaul sizing up a maquette for enlargement.