Artists Likely Faked Surreptitious Scan Of Nefertiti Bust

Busted, again

Nefertiti Bust

Nefertiti Bust

Nefertiti Bust From Neues MuseumAndre Engels via Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0

Let me be the first to say: we failed to Kinect the dots. Last month, a video purporting to show an artist covertly scanning the bust of Nefertiti in the Neues Museum in Berlin circled the internet. The story first appeared on Hyperallergic, was covered by many outlets including Popular Science, and even made it to The New York Times. An investigation by multimedia artist and 3D-scanning consultant Cosmo Wenman confirms what many scanners and modellers suspected about the covert scanning: it's a fake, it's all fake.

They are two big giveaways about the scan. The first is that Kinect scanners, like the one shown in the video covertly tucked under a scarf, produce lower quality scans than the file released. (Artist Kyle McDonald was the first to bring this to our attention). The second is that there already exists a scan of the bust of Nefertiti, created by German scanning company Trigon Art for the Neues Museum.

From Wenman’s post:

In my opinion, it’s highly unlikely that two independent scans of the bust would match so closely. It seems even less likely that a scan of a replica would be such a close match. I believe the model that the artists released was in fact derived from the Neues Museum’s own scan.

Further materials, including an interview with the artist who claimed to make the covert scan, refer to an unnamed person who supposedly took the scan and processed it for the artist. According to Wenman’s investigation, no one so far has contacted this unnamed party.

So where does that leave us? The artists hoped to spark a conversation on artifacts, and especially on who gets to use data built from the prizes of antiquity. there could be a transformative role for museums in ushering artifacts into accessible, digital formats. “ I believe that with 3D scanning and 3D printing, private collectors and museums have an unprecedented opportunity to recast themselves as living engines of cultural creation,” Wenman writes, before concluding:

It’s unfortunate that this story was based on a falsehood. With any luck, though, this will all be for the best, and there will be increased scrutiny of museums’ custody of data, and it will lead to increased public demand for museums to make their 3D data freely available to the public.