Second Skin: Historical Life Casting and Contemporary Culture

16 February – 12 May 2002

Exhibition in Galleries 1, 2 and 3

Second Skin explores the connections between the process of life casting and figurative sculpture, and compares the differences in how casting was used by nineteenth-century sculptors and how it is used today.

In the nineteenth century the use of life casts was a standard part of artistic practice. Casting could, however, be a controversial topic. Although it was acceptable for a sculptor to combine modelling and casting, a direct cast could not be presented as a finished artwork. Sometimes, the polemic became public - the scandal surrounding Rodin’s ‘Age of Bronze’ being the most famous occasion.

As well as the casts artists used for their own use, the exhibition includes a small selection of academic, phrenological and ethnographical casts, alongside medical, zoological and botanical ones to illustrate how widely spread the art of casting was.

The interest in realism and life casting re-emerged in America in the 1970s and 80s. The work of Duane Hanson and John De Andrea was subject to criticism, as if casting was still regarded as cheating. More recently, works by British artists, like Don Brown, Marc Quinn and Gavin Turk, have allowed the viewer to scrutinise the human face and figure to a degree that is not normally possible, and to muse on the fundamental facts of life and death as well as more transient aspects of contemporary culture - like fame and beauty. Others, like Siobhan Hapaska and Sarah Lucas, have occasionally been tempted by the primal possibilities of human simulacra with dramatic results.

Brought together for Second Skin, the historical and contemporary works illustrate the diversity of the casting technique, its disparate uses and influences, and focus on its often-perplexing relationship to sculpture. The exhibition explores ideas of fragmentation, surface, colour and realism and the effects of casting on portraiture and figuration - continuing a line of inquiry which, for the Institute, began with the exhibitions Return to Life and Taking Positions.

Second Skin has been organised in collaboration with the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, the Kunsthalle, Hamburg and the Museo Vela, Ligornetto.

An audio recording of Andrew Patrizio's talk 'Bring me the hand of Primo Carnera (from a life cast of Carnera to a death mask of Lombroso)' is available in the Henry Moore Institute Research Library.

Venue details

Venue address

Henry Moore Institute
The Headrow
United Kingdom
T: 0113 246 7467

Opening times

Galleries: Tuesday to Sunday, 10am - 5pm

Research Library: Monday to Friday, 10am - 5pm
Archive of Sculptors' Papers: Tuesday to Friday, by prior appointment