The David Leaves Its Site to be Received in a Manhattan Traffic Jam

[Michelangelo’s David being scanned by The Digital Michelangelo Project]

Last week a crotch-shot appeared in my twitter stream. Now, this isn’t normally the type of thing I’d write about but this particular crotch belonged to Michelangelo’s David, the sculpture that wikipedia tells us, has “become iconic shorthand for ‘culture’” ( and if wikipedia’s validation isn’t enough, David was also the central focus of a Simpson’s episode, thereby cementing its place in our [pop]cultural canon). However, the tweeted crotch didn’t belong to that David, but rather a golden, double-sized duplicate resting horizontally on a lowboy trailer driving through New York City.


The enormous reproduction –officially known as David (inspired by Michelangelo)— was created in 2005 by conceptual artist Serkan Ozkaya and, more recently, served as the figurehead of a one-day event at the Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York. Though it was only in the city for a single day as a stopover en route to the 21c Museumum in Louisville, Kentucky, it seemed like David’s golden loins were in every new browser window I opened. The ubiquity of this project in all my social media streams got me thinking about my own experience with the original sculpture.

Live streaming of DOUBLE is available at

Double-David[David (Inspired by Michelangelo) at Storefront for Art and Architecture]

Outside the Galleria dell’Academia in Florence, home of Michelangelo’s David, I was standing in a cue that stretched along a stone wall covered with graffiti. It gave me something to read while I waited in line: “Robinson was here” and “Jack loves Diane” and “David is gay” and dozens of other scrawled declarations of identity. Nearby, buskers busked and hawkers hawked novelty boxer shorts strategically printed with images of David’s sling and stones. Thousands of partial reproductions, distributed across the world straight from the source.

Follow David (Inspired by Michelangelo) by Serkan Özkaya on twitter (@storefrontnyc #doubledavid) on March 6th starting at 11am as it tours New York City.

20 minutes and 10 Euros later, I was inside the Academia and the world fell silent. There he was. The slayer of Goliath standing at the center of the Tribuna, an extension to the gallery designed specifically to house Michelangelo’s masterpiece. During the nine years it took to build the that space, the David made a treacherous journey of his own. Covered in scaffolding for nearly a decade, he was slowly moved along a rail system created just to transport him from the Piazza della Signoria, through the streets of Florence, to the Academia. The original mobilized masterpiece. It was worth the effort. The scale and proportion of the Tribuna are the perfect complement to the sculpture. The light in the room accents every muscle and vein as it struggles against the marble. Even though there are hundreds of reproductions in museums, galleries, hotels and casinos around the world, seeing the authentic David is a visceral experience. I couldn’t suppress the stomach flutters and the dizziness that overcome me every time I see a true masterpiece. It’s humbling. Staring up at him, trying to come to terms with these feelings, I heard a man whisper to his young daughter, “no matter what happens, this is now part of your life.” That was it exactly. This experience, this work of art, was now part of my life. But more than that, it was part of me. It’s a strange thing. Why it should feel –and “feel” really is the best word; you can actually feel the original David– any different than standing in front of an exact replica is a mystery. Perhaps it’s the space. Perhaps context is everything. Perhaps it’s the knowledge that what I’m seeing was sculpted by the hands of a Renaissance master more than 500 years ago. Or perhaps it’s all in my head. But for whatever reason, the aura of the sculpture is undeniable.

Digital David[image of the Digital David via The Digital Michelangelo Project]

The cathedral leaves its site to be received in the studio of an art lover… – Walter Benjamin

Or maybe not.

For many visitors to the Academia that day, more attractive than the celebrated work of art was the small console standing just yards away. It looked like a pub golf game but was, in fact, David 2.0. Created by Stanford labs, the digital David is a “perfect” 3D model that art-users can rotate and manipulate to examine the sculpture in much closer detail than the would be possible with the original. From six tons to thirty-two gigabytes, the digitized replica of a masterpiece can now be reconstituted in the studio of anyone with a high-speed internet connection and enough hard drive space. Fine art on demand. And since the digital Davids are perfect replicas of David as he existed during the original scan, all physical traces of history present on the surface of the original will be present in future reproductions. Can a reproduction at this level of detail include the aura of the work along with the nicks, scratches, and imperfections? I doubt it. But the flexibility afforded by the digital model creates the possibility for entirely new experiences. Like seeing a 30-foot-tall David in a Manhattan traffic jam. A reproduction that is further reproduced as we retweet camera phone photos of a that David-double lying on a lowboy truck as it’s transported through New York City. Digital, mobilized reproductions of a mobilized digital reproduction. Perhaps now more than ever, David is, in fact, our iconic shorthand for ‘culture’.


Maurizio Cattelan: If that’s ‘All’ there is my friends…

The Maurizio Cattelan exhibition ALL ended its run at the Guggenheim last weekend and I wanted to share some quick thoughts about the show, especially in light of what seems to have been a mostly negative reception from some of our more prominent art critics. But more than that, I’m also hoping that by posting what is little more than a few ill-informed observations jotted down in a notebook about an artist whose work I had never seen before stepping into Frank Lloyd Wright’s atrium late last year, I’ll instigate a bit of a sea change for Life Without Buildings. Basically, I want it to be more fun. After years of hard work and school, writing architectural history has actually become an honest-to-god, bill-paying job and now more than ever I need a place to experiment with different forms of criticism and documentation, to work out new projects, to make mistakes, and to write about things that are little less serious. This will be that place. So that’s happening.

But back to the Cattelan show. I loved it.

Sol LeWitt: Structures, 1965-2006: The Ruins of a New York that Wasn’t

Sol LeWitt's Pyramid (Munster)

Standing in front of the concrete blocks on a warm June morning, I found myself wondering if they were the ruins of a forgotten city – or maybe a fragment of this city’s forgotten history. The fractured masonry corner before me couldn’t truly be a ruin, though. It was perfectly crafted – too perfectly crafted. Its edges were precisely stepped and though it stood in the middle of City Hall Park, no vines or weeds had broken through the flawless mortar. What kind of ruin doesn’t age or weather? Yet there it was, as if it had always been there. In fact, when I looked at it, it seemed as if I couldn’t not remember it being there. But beyond that there was another feeling; something tugging at the edges of my consciousness, challenging me to look closer, to remember something else.


A Floating Room and Broken Architecture: The Work of Michael Elmgreen & Ingar Dragset

Michael Elmgreen & Ingar Dragset

[Social Mobility (Staircase) – image via Galleri Nicolai Wallner]

Suspended from two black balloons, a sparse white room floats to the top of a repurposed Berlin train station. I’ve been haunted by this image—or rather the resulting imagined implications of it—since a trip to Berlin almost 5 years ago. It was, of course, an art installation in the German Capital’s Hamburger Bahnoff, by an artist whose name has eluded me until today. Via Le Territoire Des Sens, I’ve learned that the work, Elevated Gallery / Powerless Structures, Fig. 146, was created by Michael Elmgreen & Ingar Dragset. The artists install broken, sliced, and decaying elements of architecture in gallery spaces, creating effects that range—at least on an emotional and experiential level— from wonder to sorrow. Whether they be slices of apocryphal prisons, decaying stairwells (see above), or floating rooms, their pieces give the impression that they belong in the Ancient Civilizations Wing of some far-future museum — like a Post-apocalyptic Pergamonaltar from Berlin’s Altes Museum. Mysterious remains of washed-out minimalism that give few clues to a society we know so little about. Continue reading for more photos — including the wondrous floating room.


An Arboreal Bus Shelter

Nara bus stop

A recent photoset of sculpted trees (real or photoshopped?) on PartIV reminded me of a couple of bus stops I saw in Nara during last year’s trip to Japan. Although not as…forced as the unusual tree-forms, the bus shelters are an elegant, natural alternative to standard bus stops that are perfectly suited to the surrounding park and reinforced all my positive feelings about Japan. Bonus pics of a couple of the more useful tree-forms after the jump.