Loredo Taft’s Dream Museum
Lorado Taft’s Dream Museum
Sub City Projects is carved from the former studio of Lorado Taft. Even if his name is unfamiliar to you, you have almost certainly seen Taft’s work, especially if you’ve been to Chicago.
Taft was known as the dean of American sculptors: a position he solidified when he published a popular book on the subject. He was also a successful teacher. The picture of Taft that emerges is one of an ambitious person with almost evangelical vision. These traits are brought into vivid focus when one considers his “Dream Museum” –a huge project he undertook at the end of his life. It was a notion that was both conservative and radical, and a little crazy.
The idea was simple but grandiose: he planned for a huge building to perch on a hill overlooking Los Angeles. The interior would consist of an enormous room (750 feet long, with 80 foot ceilings) that would house a collection of ancient sculptures from all over the world, arranged by culture and century. Organized with regions /cultures along one dimension, and chronologically along the other, the Dream Museum would, in Taft’s words “reveal the meaning of life.”
How did Taft imagine he would be able to acquire these works of art from all over the globe? Easy: he wouldn’t. The original sculptures would be represented by plaster cast reproductions. In this, Taft makes a fascinating throwback to a once heated battle among museums in this country: known as the “Battle of the casts”, it waged during the early years of the 20th century between the people who thought that casts of ancient sculpture should be in museums for the educational benefit of the public, and those who felt that it was only in the original work that the spirit and soul of the art resided.
In 1934 Taft went to California to try to raise money for the project, but he was an old and sick man, and the project withered. But there were other, related schemes: In looking through Taft’s papers, I came across a tantalizing brochure for what appears to be a sort of kit–a mini-museum of miniature models and tiny pedestals for teachers to use in schools. This brochure, the lists of sculptures to be included, the architectural plans for the Dream Museum, and photos of his studio gave me visual clues as I developed the diorama.
Taft’s papers and writings offer a curious legacy that cuts, in complicated and contradictory ways, across contemporary concerns— exemplifying issues that contemporary artists have to grapple with. Appropriation. Public pedagogy. Cultural literacy and authority. The idea of masterpieces; the notion that artists have a stake in others learning about art. What it means to have a social practice. That art should be in the schools.
But I have never heard a contemporary artist say he or she could reveal the meaning of life.
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