Friday, July 29, 2005

Do you surf art museum web sites? I’ve been a dabbler for years, since I first discovered the National Gallery of Art museum site (U.S. NGA), and the Guggenheim. Then I'd cruise to museum sites to check out the design, look up a picture I'd read about, catch exhibition info. But it wasn’t until recently that I found a museum site really worth serious surfing and download time, something that could almost equal the experience of being there.

The Rijks Museum changed my mind. It's in Amsterdam, and the home of "Night Watch" and several Vermeers, so justly well known in its brick and mortar state. It isn't a museum with the budget of the NGA though, so when I found the website I was mightly impressed by what they'd put together. Check the Rijks out and let me know if you aren’t blown away by the fabulous design and then by the close ups of the opening images and the master collection.

In some cases the images preserved online are bigger than the actual canvas (especially the Vermeers), letting you see the details of the brush strokes. The quality of the print is certainly better than reproductions in books, and, because of the even illumination of a computer screen, probably better than most viewings in real life. I can gaze as long as I want, unbothered by crowds, gallery hours and guards that froth if you get within two feet of their treasure (sadly, understandably so if you consider how many pieces of art have been stolen or destroyed in the past few years while in public galleries).

I can only equate the novelty of the experience to what it must have been like to listen to the first magnetic tape recordings of music, during the forties. That’s when recorded sound quality leaped ahead so quickly people could be confused whether they were listening to live music or recordings. Gramophones had always added a certain buzz. It was hard to even pick up the intonations of, say, a harpsichord. Most voice, string instruments and pianos -while audible - still sounded much better in person. With the advent of the Magnetophon though, everything changed. Listeners could feel that the best seat in the concert hall was their armchair, at home comfily in front of the fire. Could it be that online art museums will one day also fulfill that function for the art world?

For more on the magnetophone and the sea change in music in the early 20th century due to the recording industry, check out this recent New Yorker article.

1 comment:

Ellen said...

but really, viewing art online is like listening to cds of classical music - one can trick oneself into thinking it is enough, but when you hear it live you're overwhelmed (again) by the realness and presence - and it takes awhile again before the cd is as appreciated as before