BREUGEL & HOCKNEY
So my friend Tristan Duke texted me a photo last night,
asking, “Guess where I am.” To which I replied, “Well, you are not in Amsterdam” (since that Art of Painting canvas is one of the relatively few Vermeers that has not been allowed to travel to the blockbuster extravaganza currently transpiring at the Rijksmuseum there, tangentially about which my own Atlantic online piece should be posting any day now)—“you must be in Vienna.”
And indeed he was, at the Kunsthistorisches Museum there. At which point I asked if he had spent any time with the Breugels—the single room with twelve of the Flemish master’s greatest paintings, one of the truly staggering wonders of the world—and by way of reply he sent back this image:
Turns out he had been spending the whole morning in that room.
But anyway, that image (Breugel’s 1563 “Great” Tower of Babel, 45 by 60 inches, oil on wood panel, as opposed to the “Little” one, about half that size, now in Rotterdam, and the original miniature on ivory, now lost, alas) put me in mind of a visit I paid on David Hockney at his LA home studio, back in January 2019, when he himself had only just returned from a visit with those Bruegels in Vienna. He had had the place to himself—they let him in during one of the days the museum was otherwise closed to the public—and he had spent the entire day with the twelve masterworks, and a separate temporary exhibition of twelve other visiting paintings, and he couldn’t stop talking about the experience. (Nor would one have wanted him to.)
As he had been leaving, the curators had given him a flash drive upon which they had embedded a recent extremely-high-definition photographic reproduction (actually a digitally integrated reproduction of hundreds of individually prized near-microscopic details); and once he had gotten back to LA, he and his team had fed the drive through his large-scale digital photocopying machine, generating over a dozen overlapping horizontal panels which they then pinned to the high wall on the far side of his studio, to truly stunning effect.
For indeed the sheer extent of detail graspable in that jumbo version was well nigh mind-boggling. David was convinced that this was going to have to be the future of museum exhibition, and he encouraged me to take a leisurely mind-meander across the wall mural with my iPhone. I embed a five-minute excerpt from that walk (supplemented by David’s occasional commentary) here.
See you next week, with part two of the Hans Noë profile.
This reminded me of a wonderful exhibit I stumbled onto in Chicago many years ago. It displayed every painting by Caravaggio in a then state-of-the-art technology that had digitally photographed in whatever high definition of the time, every known work by him. The point was not so much to try and replicate the experience of seeing every one of the paintings, but to have the pleasure of something no one ever anticipated being able to do in the real world: Have the ability to look at and ponder the incomparable artist's entire oeuvre at one time.
The exhibit helped point out common models he'd used, who I could see, for the first time in their different roles. And I have to admit that the technology enhanced the incredible beauty of every one of the works.
I'd so love to see the Vermeer show, but I think he's an artist I'd also like, just once, to see all of his works at once. The new show would be close to that, but since it's unlikely I will be able to make it to the current exhibit, what they'd done for Caravaggio would be a very close second.