From the tomb of Tutankhamun to Raphael’s Sistine masterpieces, Adam Lowe makes perfect copies for governments and galleries the world over. But he’s not a forger – he’s a liberator
The grandest spaces in the whole of the mighty Victoria and Albert Museum are the Cast Courts, built high enough to hold a full-scale replica of Trajan’s Column in Rome, which is colossal even in two pieces. No less imposing are the London museum’s 19th-century copies of Michelangelo’s David, not to mention its duplicates of Viking carvings and even the entire front of a Spanish cathedral. All these casts, which were recently cleaned, are a curious spectacle. Why did the Victorians create such a comprehensive “virtual art” collection? To make a clever point about a copy being just as good as the real thing – or simply to bring great work to the people?
But there’s one exhibit here that brings the world of the fake, and all the questions the subject provokes, up to date: an eerily precise 3D print of a nude statue of Pauline Bonaparte, sister of French military leader Napoleon, by the neo-classical artist Canova. This lovely replica is the work of British-born, Madrid-based artist and tech pioneer Adam Lowe. By placing it here, the V&A is recognising that Lowe is reinventing the much misunderstood practice of copying. Indeed, Lowe takes the fine art remake to such heights of accuracy, sensitivity and detail that even experts are fooled. Far from being derided as cynical forgeries, though, his copies are hailed by this and other museums as opening up new ways of understanding and enjoying masterpieces.