In my latest “Sightings” column, which appears in the online edition of today’s Wall Street Journal, I pay a visit to a new kind of art exhibition. Here’s an excerpt.
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What would happen if it suddenly became possible to make perfect copies of paintings of the past? To begin with, the purpose of art museums would change dramatically. It is by going to museums, after all, that most of us discover how different it is to stand in front of a great painting instead of seeing it reproduced on a poster or in a book. I still remember the life-changing thrill I felt when I first saw Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Not only was it much bigger—three feet wide—than I’d previously imagined from “seeing” it in the family encyclopedia, but the colors were richer and more intense than any photo could suggest….
Four decades later, I drove to the King of Prussia Mall, located 25 miles from Philadelphia, to see a “pop-up show” of life-sized three-dimensional reproductions of nine celebrated Van Gogh paintings. The originals are owned by Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, which put the show together and sent it on a tour of U.S. malls (most of the actual paintings are now too fragile to travel). The reproductions are on display in a pavilion set up outside Lord & Taylor, where you can see them for $5….
As I looked, I wondered: Is anyone here having the same kind of experience that I had when I first saw “The Starry Night” 40 years ago? And if not, why bother to put nine Van Gogh reproductions on display in a mall? For you don’t have to go to Amsterdam to see his paintings: Museums in 21 states own at least one. The Philadelphia Museum of Art has six, two of which are currently on display—and while admission to the PMA is $20, children get in free. Nevertheless, I’m told that roughly a thousand people are visiting the pop-up show each weekend….
What are they seeing? The reproductions resemble very skillfully executed hand-painted copies of Van Gogh’s original paintings. (The colors seemed just a bit bright to me, but that could have been the fault of the lighting.) Not only do they give you a surprisingly clear impression of what the real paintings look like, but their presentation is simple, straightforward and ballyhoo-free…
Looking at them felt rather like attending a movie-house simulcast of a live performance by the Metropolitan Opera: It’s not as good as being there, but it’s not bad, either.
But as they say in the infomercials, wait…there’s more!…
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Read the whole thing here.
The original theatrical trailer for Lust for Life, Vincente Minnelli’s 1956 screen version of Irving Stone’s 1934 novel about the life of Vincent Van Gogh, starring Kirk Douglas as the painter. The screenplay is by Norman Corwin and the score is by Miklós Rózsa: