Sunday 29 June 2014

Art and The Trolls

How many of you have ever been to The Louvre in Paris?  Next question, how many of you have been to Paris but have not visited The Louvre?  In the humble opinion of your author, The Louve is the finest museum and art gallery in the world.  The scale, breadth, and sheer quality of The Louvre is quite breathtaking.  This is not an attraction that you set an afternoon aside to check off your bucket list.  I don’t see how you can do it justice in less than two solid days.

The Louvre is a stunning experience.  The exhibits are laid out with flawless vision, and a quality that places the world’s finest works of art in an appropriate setting, while avoiding the temptation of overblown in-your-face opulence.  It also avoids that sense of tired dowdiness that mars so many of Europe’s oldest and most famous establishments.  It is surprisingly spacious.  Unlike Florence’s Uffizi, it manages to maintain a serene, contemplative, and unhurried ambiance, even during the busiest times.  But that is with one glaring exception.  Everybody who comes to The Louvre comes to see Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpiece Mona Lisa; sometimes that is the only thing they enter the building to accomplish.  Mona Lisa sits inside a room of its own, maybe 2,000 square feet in all.  It is always packed.  What do you do?  You can elbow your way to the front, arrogantly and unashamedly, and people [insert your preferred stereotype here] do just that.  Or you can just go with the flow, and gradually drift towards the front over a period of maybe 45 minutes.  This is a great way to contemplate the work’s iconically enigmatic message.  The third thing you could do is to check it off your bucket list from the back of the room and head for the exit and a nice tasse of French coffee.

I took the middle approach, allowing me to contemplate La Giaconda from a number of perspectives.  One of the thoughts that occupied my mind was this one.  How do I know I am looking at the real thing?  Was that just a reproduction, with the original sealed deep in a climate-controlled nuclear-bomb-proof vault?  How would I know?  If I was in possession of an accurate replica, which I could hang above my fireplace, would I be able to tell that it wasn’t the original?  We’ll set aside the logical (not to mention legal) difficulties of explaining how it got from the Louvre to my Lounge.

Proving the provenance and authenticity of original art is a thorny problem.  Currently disputed works include those of artists from Caravaggio to Jackson Pollock.  Inevitably, the problem ends up being resolved based on the opinion of a single expert, or panel of experts.  On occasion, even the opinions of those experts is hotly contested.

So if only a tiny panel of experts can tell the real Mona Lisa from a high quality fake, it follows that I can’t.  If I had the money and the desire, I could commission my own Mona Lisa replica, and hang it in my lounge.  It may as well be the real thing, as far as I would be concerned, because I would be quite unable to tell the difference.  Of course, the more of an Art buff I was, and the greater my appreciation and knowledge of fine art, the more accurate the replica would have to be so that I could not tell it apart.  And, of course, the more expensive it would be.

The parallels to high end audio are obvious.  The concept of the “original” Mona Lisa corresponds to the original performance of musicians in a recording studio, and the concept of the “fake” corresponds to the distributed recording.  There are two significant differences.  The first is that in the music sphere there is an intent on the part of the artist to distribute accurate copies of the art to consumers.  The second is that in music we all get to be members of the “select panel of experts” who get to weigh in on the authenticity debate.  Even, unfortunately, the Internet Trolls who believe that their opinions count for more than yours.