Bucket list made easy!
October 26, 2009 7:23 AM   Subscribe

Want to see Trajan's Column, Michelangelo’s David (with or without fig leaf), and Notre Dame all in one room? (Well, two rooms.) The Victoria and Albert’s “Cast Courts” are an amazing example of Victorian plaster casting, allowing those who couldn't afford the Grand Tour a chance to see great works of art and architecture.
posted by JoanArkham (22 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
During a recent trip to London, I was so taken with the cast courts that we went to the V&A three times over five days. (Thanks to AskMefi we found a great hotel within walking distance!)
posted by JoanArkham at 7:25 AM on October 26, 2009

It really is an amazing room that I had no idea existed until I visited the V&A a while back. It's almost an overload since you're seeing only the best stuff, with no context.
posted by smackfu at 7:36 AM on October 26, 2009

The V&A is a superb museum that you could easily spend days in - and the casts are breathtaking in both detail and size.

I guarantee you'll be asking yourself how the heck they got some of those casts into the building to begin with.
posted by panboi at 7:45 AM on October 26, 2009

I was blown away by the Hall of Architecture in the Carnegie Art Museum of Pittsburgh, particularly the "12th century Romanesque portal from the abbey church of St. Gilles, in Gard, France (now the largest cast in the world)."

It doesn't seem that interesting to read about - "Plaster casts? Really?" - but when you walk in these enormous rooms and come face to face with some of these pieces, it's a different story.
posted by HopperFan at 7:47 AM on October 26, 2009

The V&A doesn't have an end.

Let me explain.

The Great Exhibition is a popular meeting place for Dimensional Tourists. The expectation for utter amazement and novelty means you could away looking like pretty much anything you wanted (exceptions made for non-linear beings and we all know where they like to hang out). It was there, over many whiskeys, that the conversation turned to *stuff*. *stuff* is being made, in any given universe, at an enormous rate. There are entire pocket realities devoted to hordes and fabrication. Mechanus is in danger of being buried in tiny souvenir portal keys. There is a God-Litch Emperor over in Nega that has a plane of infinite Space And Also Cool Dry Storage

So, we're good? Right? Space/Time is infinite right? There is always More Place for More Stuff.

Except there isn't. Sometimes dimensions die. Planes dissolve, parallel universes go askew. You could end up losing this stuff. A lot of stuff. And yea, theoretically everything has an exact double SOMEWHERE cause, you know, infinite, but you go try and find it and then come back to me.

So we approached Albert and asked him if his 'Albertoplois' would be a place for "Items without a dimension." Art Refugee camp. We installed (and continue to) more and more rooms and halls and collections and levels and floors and the like. You can't access many of them from the Base Material, but walk into the wrong shadow or circle the wrong statue three times or just make a left left left right and you too can visit the Other Galleries: The Hall Of Dead Gods, The (reconstructed) Fortress Of Solitude, The Wonderkammer Of Queen Ix The Unrelenting, the gems in the color from out of space, all of it.

And you might never get out. Like I said, The V&A doesn't have an end.

there was another thing, some other guy kept trying to convince Albert to put up a proper tannenbuam in Mid-Winter, cause he knew Albert was homesick and thought it might help. Forget his name, Baldric or something. Hot as fuck. Wonder what ever happened to him
posted by The Whelk at 8:13 AM on October 26, 2009 [6 favorites]

Damn, one day was not enough for a visit to the V&A. Heck, a month probably wouldn't be enough. I spent most of the day with the plaster casts - great stuff!
posted by futureisunwritten at 8:25 AM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Definitely underrated. Whenever we go to the cast courts there's at most 4-5 other people in the entire room.

As an aside, you never see any families/kids in the V&A, which is a shame since you can actually touch stuff in the cast courts! The next-door Science Museum and Natural History museums create a sort of pair of gravitational wells which suck all kids into their orbit.
posted by vacapinta at 8:53 AM on October 26, 2009

he next-door Science Museum and Natural History museums create a sort of pair of gravitational wells which suck all kids into their orbit.

Feature not bug.
posted by The Whelk at 9:00 AM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Plaster casts are also a fundamental part of teaching artists in the traditional atelier model.

First you copy lithographs, say from the
Charles Bargue book/drawing course (not cheap, but cheaper than an art class)

Then you copy from plaster casts, e.g.:

Then you draw from the model:

Then you paint/sculpt:
(omitted, although lucchesi and lanteri are good on sculpture)

(Although it is fun to mix up the steps. But the teacher knows if she or he teaches this way, the student learns to where to put the lines before dealing with the plaster cast or model.)

This is a fun place to start:

unless you have an atelier nearby:
Atelier are much cheaper than university art departments, but the students that come out make better art, I think.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:31 AM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you read the comments thread here:

you can learn about the destruction of the plaster casts by the modernists and the hippies, who apparently believed that realism and traditional teaching methods were obsolete, e.g.

At least they didn't burn any books while they were at it, but maybe the librarians put up too much of a fight.

(btw, it's the blog of James Gurney, Dinotopia author)
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:10 AM on October 26, 2009

V&A RULES. The fashion exhibition, the Great Bed of Ware, the sheer glorious randomness of the place...

Whelk has hit upon a cosmic truth there. For this thy vision, o Whelk, I have espoused thee.
posted by Pallas Athena at 11:14 AM on October 26, 2009

We were kind of underwhelmed by the British Museum* after going to the V&A first...it was pretty much the highlight of our trip. We'll be back, for sure.

*Part of that was the fact that it was really hot, and there was no AC, and the place was filled with sweaty, rude people crowding around the most popular exhibits...
posted by JoanArkham at 11:47 AM on October 26, 2009

Five years in London isn't enough for the British Museum, the V&A, both the Tates, the National Gallery, Sir John Soanes Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Wellcome Collection, the Hunterian Museum, all the random museums there are at UCL, all the other little esoteric museums that I keep meaning to go to about tea and nurses and immigration and all the rest. Dammit, I just haven't done any of them properly yet .

I have no idea how tourists do it.
posted by Helga-woo at 12:43 PM on October 26, 2009

The British Museum isn't really built for wandering. Soon it all just starts to look like piles of ceramics and figurines. Its great if you know beforehand what things are you interested in. Are you fascinated by early libraries? No problem, they have clay tablets from Ashurbanipal's library including the Flood tablet on display (Stuffed in a corner of an overcrowded room). Interested in mysticism? No problem. They have John Dee's magic mirror and in another room (in the basement) a perfectly preserved 13th century Islamic Geomantic Device. And so on...

The V&A is more of a wandering museum since, because its a design museum, the objects interest is immediately apparent - it is usually gorgeous to just look at.
posted by vacapinta at 1:12 PM on October 26, 2009

It lost its charm.
posted by Zambrano at 3:38 PM on October 26, 2009

Five years in London isn't enough for...

You left off one of my favourites, the British Library. Maybe not quite the cornucopia that is the V&A or the British Museum but if you've a hankering to see Jane Austen's handwriting, or William Blake's, then it's the place to go. Plus it's also a real library :)

And if you're looking for short, literary museum type excursions in London, check out The Dickens Museum, Dr Johnson's House or (slightly more surreal) The Sherlock Holmes Museum.
posted by robertc at 4:34 PM on October 26, 2009

Plaster casts of Greek and Roman sculpture from the Ashmolean Museum, courtesy the Beazley archive--see here also.
posted by y2karl at 6:51 PM on October 26, 2009

Not sure if it's mentioned anywhere in the links, but unfortunately one of the cast courts (the one featuring David) is closed at the moment. It's still viewable from the balcony in the metalwork gallery. It would be disappointing if the other one didn't contain such amazing pieces.

If you ever go, take a look at Richard the First's massive head.
posted by Edwahd at 3:40 AM on October 27, 2009

They do actually have a gallery closures list, which is better than I expected. But not linked back to the individual departments or anything.

I still remember going to the British Museum years ago and they were like, "Oh, these galleries are closed today because we have no money."
posted by smackfu at 7:25 AM on October 27, 2009

One thing which is very interesting to me is that while the world wasn't really paying attention, it has gotten easier and easier to 3D scan things just using a camera, or a camcorder, even without a laser-pointer-like light source.

Technically this is called 'photogrammetry' or 'object reconstruction':

Maybe 10 years from now all the art schools that want will have as many casts as they can 3D print. I think I know what I'm doing on my next trips to art museums.
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:45 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

The next-door Science Museum and Natural History museums create a sort of pair of gravitational wells which suck all kids into their orbit.

Science Museum - rubbish
Natural History Museum - awesome.

As an undergraduate there was a year when I went to the NHM at least once a week, and I knew people there who could show me the stuff that wasn't out on display.
posted by atrazine at 2:54 AM on October 28, 2009

Oh, and I've also been to the V&A many, many times. Probably once a month over the four years that I was in London.
posted by atrazine at 2:55 AM on October 28, 2009

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