ALISON COFRANCESCO ’20
The recent Mostra di Monet Exhibit in Rome provided a chance for visitors to see select works from the artist’s early caricatures, cityscapes, and later natural studies as his vision deteriorated.
Along with Monet’s paintings, the show also included a digitally recreated 3D print of one of his works. In 1958, one of Monet’s Water Lilies studies burned in a fire at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Despite the original being lost, a replica of the painting was recently printed over a canvas of the same size and texture as the original. In many places the bumps on the canvas do not actually match up with individual brushstrokes, and from close up it is clear that the image does not contain the many individual slashes of oil paint that Monet was so well known for layering onto his work. From far away, however, it is a very convincing fake.
This system of recreation raises interesting questions about the future of how we experience art. On one side of the argument, 3d replication is a way to make art more accessible to more people. Especially in the case of large, atmospheric painting (Rothko, Pollock, etc.) it is important to see the work in its original size to experience it as the artist intended. In these cases, images in textbooks or online leave much to be desired. This type of technology could enable more people to experience a version of that art without having to travel long distances.
The 3D printing method also has the benefit of protecting the wisdom of cultural heritage from iconoclasm. Recently the group Rekrei, headed by Chance Coughenour, began a similar initiative to recreate statues that had been destroyed in the Mosul museum. Their project combined the photos that people had taken of the art during their museum visits to create virtual replications.
Even with the many benefits to this new technology, it was unsettling to see the Monet recreation included next to his original works. This kind of 3d imaging raises the questions regarding the importance of original art. The ability to create perfect replicas takes away the uniqueness of an artwork, and the ownership of the artist over their work. In a world where artists are already so under supported, this kind of quick and easy replication seems to even further diminish the importance of their participation in the creation of their work.
As previously stated, the painting at the Monet exhibit was not perfect in matching texture and color. However, as technology becomes more advanced, more faithful recreations will be possible. It is important to proceed with caution when it comes to the exhibition of these types of replicas. Cougehenor’s Rekrei initiative was unique because it only reconstructed artworks virtually, even creating an online ‘museum’ where the works could be seen. The creation of this kind of context is necessary to respect the integrity of the original object, and will be a critical question for museums as technology advances.
This is not to diminish the use of technology in the art world, as it has provided us with some of the most innovative work in the past few decades. However once technology begins to infringe on the importance of the original art object, it should be questioned.