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The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and Fujifilm recently partnered to create three-dimensional reproductions of some of Van Gogh’s most well-known works, including Almond Blossom (1890), Sunflowers (1889), The Harvest (1888), Wheatfield Under Thunderclouds (1890), and Boulevard de Clichy (1887). The Van Gogh Museum and Fujifilm have an exclusive three-year partnership, so we can probably expect more works in the near future.
The reproductions, called Relievos, are touted as very closely resembling the original works, and will be produced in limited numbers. The Relievos are created through a technique known as Reliefography, which involves a three-dimensional scan and a high-resolution print. The process is slow; it took seven years to develop it, and only three reproductions can be made in a day. The original frames and the backs of the paintings are also carefully reproduced, and each reproduction is subjected to strict quality control procedures and numbered by the museum. Special attention is paid to replicating colors, brightness, size, and textures in the original works. The end result is probably close enough to fool you and me, but there seems to be little question that experts will be able to distinguish the reproductions from originals.
The series launched in July in a Hong Kong shopping mall, and some purchases were reportedly made on the spot. Priced at about $35,000, the reproductions certainly broaden access to Van Gogh’s works, but also provide a new source of revenue for the Van Gogh Museum. Part of the purpose of the Relievos was to raise money for its renovation and upkeep. While educational uses are also planned, other museums are intrigued by the possibility of opening up a new market for sales somewhere between standard prints and original works.
This development has caused commentators to wonder what these sanctioned copies of original works mean for our understanding of what constitutes artwork today. As one person has suggested, perhaps our ability to create exact reproductions of artworks means that the artist’s name and brand is what provides authenticity to artworks.
It seems that these developments also challenge the foundational choices the law makes regarding when, how, and why we protect artworks. Presumably, the technology will only continue to improve and its usage will spread, meaning that three-dimensional reproductions of a large variety of original works may become commonly available. Does this seem fair? Does it matter how the revenue is spent? What new issues might follow from this advancement in technology? What can we learn from how the Van Gogh Museum and Fujifilm have handled their partnership?
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