We are taught to believe in originals. In art and architecture originals vouch for authenticity, value, and truth, calling for protection and preservation. The nineteenth century, however, looked at it differently. Full-scale plaster casts of architecture from across time and place circulated throughout Europe and America and were proudly displayed in leading museums. This book, the first comprehensive history of this culture of reproduction, examines how these objects were produced, distributed, and displayed, and how their significance can be understood today.
Plaster Monuments unsettles conventional thinking about copies and originals. As Mari Lending shows, the casts became powerful tools for displaying the history of architecture, while at the same time taking on temporalities of their own. Arranged in galleries and printed in exhibition catalogs, the reproductions had the power to turn chaotic realities into seemingly coherent narratives. And while architectural casts fell out of fashion after World War I, they continued to inspire and disturb, for instance in Paul Rudolph’s 1963 and Architecture building at Yale University.
Drawing from a broad archive of exhibitions, catalogues, and writings from architects, archaeologist, explorers, curators, and novelist, Plaster Monuments tells the fascinating story of a premodern aesthetic and presents a new way of thinking about history’s artifacts.