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When Processing Turns into Art

© k-tec

Five-axis milling robot and PLEXIGLAS® instead of chisel and a block of marble: an Austrian polymer processor reproduced the most well-known sculpture in art history – Michelangelo's David.

“Art is nothing other than formation with any material,” said the German artist Kurt Schwitters. However, choosing the right material certainly is not unimportant: If the work of art shall create the impression of lightness, large amounts of concrete are most likely the wrong material. When referring to water, the work of art needs to appear transparent – at least as far as the Austrian polymer processor Thilo Üblagger is concerned.

Thus, Überlagger’s company ktec GmbH produced a statue using transparent material to create the impression that it consisted of a single drop of water. Only fractions of a second later one notices: it is the statue of David created by the Italian sculptor Michelangelo – in 1:2 format and produced with the original PLEXIGLAS®. But not only the size and material differ from the famous sculpture, this sculpture is also in a different location. While the more than 500 year-old David by Michelangelo is exhibited at Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia, the reproduced sculpture made of Röhm’s brand acrylic glass is located at the old waterworks in Wrocław.

The original: Michelangelo's David

© muratart /

Michelangelo was one of the most significant artists of the Italian High Renaissance and created the sculpture between 1501 and 1504 from a single block of marble. It is the first monumental statue of the High Renaissance and since 1873 is located in Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia.

The importance of water

Why this location? “In 2016, the city is a European Capital of Culture. This is highly topical and at the same time we wanted to refer back to the past,” Üblagger explains. At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, Wrocław used to be an important center in Europe’s water industry. Therefore, the city still has time-honored waterworks even today. “With the help of Michelangelo’s widely known sculpture that appears to be made of water and is located at the entrance hall of the waterworks in Wrocław, we aimed at raising the awareness of the importance of water for the Polish city,” the polymer processor continues.

Like a large drop of water

While the original David by Michelangelo consists of marble, Thilo Üblagger created his work using PLEXIGLAS®.

© k-tec

Like a large drop of water

The transparency of the material creates the impression of water.

© k-tec

Like a large drop of water

At the same time, PLEXIGLAS® is extremely easy to form.

© k-tec

A structural material retaining its shape

To Üblagger it is apparent why he decided to use PLEXIGLAS® for this project, as is often the case: “It is a structural material that I can treat like steel. What that means is that it retains its shape to one-hundred percent. At the same time, it is as transparent as distilled water,” he said. This latter feature in particular made the brand acrylic glass become the material of choice for the reproduction of David for the waterworks in Wrocław. After all, it symbolizes the importance of water for the city.

Before Üblagger – whose company ktec specialized on processing transparent polymers – and his team could start, they needed the dimensions of the original. The Graz University of Technology completed a high-precision scan of the original and scaled down the size of the sculpture to a 1:2 scale. The experts of ktec then compiled the data for the program of a five-axis milling robot. “The special thing about this robot is that he has complete freedom to move within an area of 14 by 4 by 3 meters, thus easily milling contours in all dimensions,” Üblagger explains. With PLEXIGLAS® highly precise shapes are possible.

The color of the water?

The machine worked for about 450 hours milling the contours of David into the monolithic, cubic block consisting of laminated PLEXIGLAS® blocks. Then, a precision grinding attachment did the coarse and fine grinding. Finally, the employees themselves gave the sculpture a high polish. Three months later, David was ready to travel to Kraków. Protected by a tailored foam cover fitted with a velvet-like material inside, the sculpture was carried to Poland via special transport. Even today, the transparent David is located at the entrance hall of the waterworks. It would not have taken much however, and large parts of the sculpture would have been colored blue to illustrate the water content of the human body. “I could dissuade the client from this idea though,” says Üblagger. “We do not produce a transparent sculpture to color it in the end.” However, it would have been possible thanks to PLEXIGLAS®.

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