With „Near Life: The Gipsformerei — 200 Years of Casting Plaster“ the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin celebrate the 200th anniversary of the foundation of their oldest institution. Since 1819 the Gipsformerei has relied on time-honoured handcraft traditions to turn out casts of signature sculptures, ranging in date of origin from prehistory and early history to the twentieth century. The special exhibiton emphatically places centre stage the casting technique as an approximation to life practised by sculptors since ancient times.
The exhibition is predicated on the idea that taking casts was the method of choice to – quite literally – get closest to life (and death). Roughly 200 exhibits – sculptures as well as paintings, books, graphics, photographs and videos – put the significance of life casts for the history of sculpture centre stage. The exhibition’s trajectory extends from the cast of a crocodile and different kinds of life and death masks to iconic works of art in whose creation casting techniques played a crucial role.
"Near Life" is the first comprehensive presentation of the Gipsformerei holdings. As the world’s largest manufactory of its kind that is still operational today, the Gipsformerei boasts a collection comprising several thousand master models, moulds and painting models. The exhibition seeks to put on display a representative cross-section of these holdings and complements it both with items from other collections of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and outstanding objects on loan from Germany and abroad. A key role is accorded to contemporary art: it is uniquely suited to show how casts emancipated themselves from the subservient status of technical aids to works of art in their own right.
The exhibition is a premiere of sorts for the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin in that it opens up a new venue on Museum Island: the special-exhibition space in the newly built James Simon Galerie. The Gipsformerei therefore returns to its historical roots for its anniversary. In the 1830s, the Königlich-Preussische Gipsgussanstalt took up the basement floor of the Altes Museum. In preparation for the opening of the Neues Museum in 1855, an entire plaster floor was planned, envisioned as the ‘core of all collections’. The casts were to be supplied directly by the Gipsformerei, The exhibition highlights the close connection between the Gipsformerei and the sculptural holdings of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin with a “plaster cast trail”, consisting of select interventions in the permanent exhibitions on Museum Island.
Media Partners of the exhibition are ARTE and Der Tagesspiegel.