A letter from Peter Trippi looking back on 2020 and looking forward to 2021, in this preview of Fine Art Connoisseur Magazine.
Anticipating Reality, Beyond the Virtual
This is not the winter you were expecting. It certainly isn’t mine. Last January I was lucky to spend a week in Rome exploring museums, palaces, and monuments in glorious sunshine, with few tourists and lots of after-Christmas bargains in the shops. If COVID-19 was in the air (and surely it was), I did not know.
This January—probably like you—I am almost attached to my computer and television, communicating with others via Zoom and exploring the world vicariously through websites and streaming content. This existence would be deeply depressing without the knowledge that I will get vaccinated this spring (hopefully), and then perhaps the wheels of “normal” life can slowly start to turn again.
It’s impossible to overstate how keenly many of us miss direct experiences of the visual and performing arts, and of places far from home. Thanks to technology, we can see so much at a distance, but it’s just not the same. Online recently I watched the actress Audra McDonald sing a dozen numbers to an empty hall, and though she was her usual riveting self, I appreciated her candid observation that the absence of a live audience made it all unsatisfactory. Indeed, the real excitement lies in interaction, something as true in fine art as in music.
Having said that, some remote artistic experiences are just more satisfying than others. In November, the Mauritshuis in The Hague—one of the world’s great art collections—activated a remarkable virtual experience available for free downloading from its website (mauritshuis.nl/en). The Second Canvas app brings online viewers into the museum not only to admire every inch of its grand rooms, but also to zoom in on three dozen masterworks. They include all three of its Vermeers, four Rembrandts, three Jan Steens, Carel Fabritius’s Goldfinch, and more. It turns out the Maurithuis is the world’s first museum to be fully digitized in a gigapixel format, which means more than 100 times the resolution your smartphone offers. This allows us to discern the tiniest brushstrokes, even to switch over to infrared photos that reveal the paintings’ underlayers.
Kudos to the Mauritshuis and its tech partner, Madpixel, for raising remote engagement to the next level. But truly, I would much rather be inside that museum for real, wandering the rooms and inspecting my favorite paintings, even though my eyes won’t make out those underlayers. Fortunately, that visit will happen someday, and I am grateful.
Mark my words: once folks finally feel it is safe to travel and to gather in museums and theatres, it is going to be intense. If—and it’s a big if—our arts venues, airlines, hotels, taxi drivers, and restaurants can hang on just eight more months, oh boy. We cabin-fever victims will be booking trips, tickets, experiences, and outings of all kinds. Not just because we want to get out of the house, but because we have so traumatically learned how meaningful it is to be in the world, to experience life and art as they really are.
Next time I’m in the Netherlands, if I must wait in line to enter the Mauritshuis, no problem. I will stand there patiently and I will chat enthusiastically with all the other art-lovers standing nearby (something I never used to do). What a heretofore-unappreciated privilege that will be—to experience life together.
See you there.