by Patrick Appel
The Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam has developed high-quality 3D reproductions of some of its finest paintings, with what it describes as the most advanced copying technique ever seen. Axel Rüger, the museum’s director, said: “It really is the next generation of reproductions because they go into the third dimension. If you’re a layman, they are pretty indistinguishable [from the originals]. Of course, if you’re a connoisseur and you look more closely, you can see the difference.”
Izabella Kaminska believes that, eventually, “it is highly likely that the naked eye will no longer be able to differentiate between reproductions and originals, and that the only way to know for sure which is which will be to carbon date or test the materials microscopically”:
Value then becomes entirely an eye of the beholder thing. In logical terms the value of the Mona Lisa should collapse, especially so if the clue to authenticity is lost or diluted entirely. If the painting stays valued it’s because a narrative, myth of belief system has been attached to that particular version of the object — much as happens with sacred relics or superstitious charms.
Felix Salmon counters:
When paintings become worth millions of dollars, it’s not because of some intrinsic aesthetic value.
If it was, then known fakes would be valuable, rather than worthless, and outfits like Artisoo would be serious operations, rather than laughingstocks. We value certain objects because they are handmade; because of whose hand made them; and because they are historically important. This is the unique actual painting that Vincent Van Gogh painted in a certain month in 1890, these are his actual brushstrokes, his actual paint; this is a key part of the oeuvre which changed the course of (art) history. There is only one of this painting, it exists in a certain museum, and if you want, you can do the pilgrimage: get on a plane, and fly to Amsterdam, and visit the museum. Kaminska sneers at “sacred relics”, but the financial and sociological and art historical value in these paintings makes them much closer to being sacred relics than they are to being purely decorative works, admired just for what they look like.
(Image: A detail from a 3D printed painting. Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam.)