The Nature and Import of Casts

Casts are repositories of critical information. Not only is the individual "history," or provenance, of each cast often compelling in and of itself, but they also frequently preserve details from original works that may otherwise have been irretrievably lost through corrosive air pollution or the vicissitudes of history (including looting, warfare, or insensitive cleaning and conservation techniques). In spite of this, the meaning and value of casts is frequently subjected to intense scrutiny: Casts may have been returned to the spotlight, but are their functions still the same? Are they still educational tools or merely commercial souvenirs? Are they works of art in their own right, or are they derivative imitations? The answer is one that is still being puzzled out and articulated today.

Marguerite Yourcenar, in That Mighty Sculptor, Time, wrote: "(O)n the day when a statue is finished, its life, in a certain sense, begins."(2) The true history of sculpture, and indeed that of casts, is therefore of a piece with life and, inevitably, decay. In this sense, it seems clear that casts, with their remarkable pedigrees and private histories, have taken on lives of their own, establishing themselves securely in the firmaments of art and cultural history.

-Mara Giarratana Young '11, with Drs. Katherine Schwab and Jill Deupi, and Michael Keropian

1 Marguerite Yourcenar, That Mighty Sculptor, Time, trans. Walter Kaiser in collaboration with the author (New York: The Noonday Press/Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1993), 57.

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