What Van Gogh’s Famous Self-Portrait Looks Like as a Photograph (The Atlantic)

By Megan Garber (Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.)

In a word: creepy. In another word: beautiful.

What would a Van Gogh painting look like as a life-like image? What would Van Gogh himself look like — not as a series of impressionistic swirls, but as a common photograph? Lithuanian architect and photographer Tadao Cern wanted to find out — so he digitally recreated one of the artist’s most iconic self-portraits as a modern portrait. The result is haunting:

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Compare that to the artist’s actual self-portrait:


So, basically: The architect took one of the most rare things in the world — a Van Gogh painting — and converted it into one of the most banal: a selfie. But in the process, using contemporary tools, Cern also created a new form of art, one that takes the work of human hands and transforms it into something that could exist only in the digital realm. Here is — generally — how he did it:


The virtual vs. the real: Giga-resolution in Google Art Project (idea.org)

-article originally from idea.org (http://www.idea.org/blog/2011/02/14/the-amazing-giga-resolution-images-of-google-art-project/)

Real life has a close competitor in the “Art Project,” released by Google last week. Their initial release is a clean, inviting site for browsing over one thousand artworks from 17 of the world’s most famous museums. At least one piece from each of the 17 museums is displayed in gigapixel resolution, so that online visitors can zoom in to the brushstrokes. Each piece also has information about the artists, text or video commentary, bios, and links to related pieces. Some museums have 3D walk-throughs, analogous to Google’s map street views (there are 6000 3D panoramas), and there’s a way to create personal art “collections” to revisit or share later.

The resolution on the gigapixel images is stunning. Consider “The Starry Night,” the famous paining by post-impressionist artist Vincent van Gogh. When you see the painting in real life, you can see the texture of the thick paint strokes which van Gogh created. But aside from a general impression of shimmering, textured paint, it’s hard to see the texture in detail in a busy gallery with normal illumination. Here’s a typical view:

Writing for the Boston Globe, Sebastian Smee said, “If you live far from some of the world’s great museums — and we all do — Google Art Project can give you tantalizing glimpses of their galleries and of individual works of art.” But most of Mr. Smee’s article criticizes the online access: “Call me a curmudgeon, but I remain underwhelmed. It’s not just that Google’s interface is frustrating, or that the choice of viewing possibilities is constrained and seemingly arbitrary… The human eye can grasp the thickness, weight, and texture of the yellow impasto Van Gogh used for the stars and moon in “The Starry Night’’ much more effectively than a camera.”

Is that true? below is a screenshot of the yellow impasto in Google Art Project — and you can zoom in even more:

The Starry Night image in the Google Art Project is super high resolution. The Google image is approximately 45 thousand pixels wide. It is 6 times higher resolution than the naked eye can see from a meter.

The painting is 74 cm × 92 cm. The maximum spatial resolution of  the human eye is measured in cycles per degree. If we consider the vision photoreceptors in the eye to be analogous to pixels, our vision in the most sensitive region, in the fovea of our eye, corresponds to the equivalent pixel spacing of 0.39 arc-minute (Clark, 1990).

One degree of vision is  1 / ( 0.39 * 1/60)  =  154 pixels. If you stand one meter from a painting, a 0.92 meter wide painting uses a width of 2 * arctan ( 0.92 / 2 ) degrees = 49° of your vision. The equivalent number of pixels which you can see is = 49 * 154 = 7546 pixel wide — the limit of resolution of our eye — any higher pixel density would look the same. You would need to look at the painting with your eye 7 cm (just under 3 inches) away to see the same level of detail. Brian Croxall notes that this is much higher resolution than the commercial image library ARTstor gives to schools and libraries.

Seeing details is important, but the relative importance of seeing detail vs. seeing real 3D is debatable. An article in the Washington Post, reported skeptical comments from museum directors, for example, Brian Kennedy, director of the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio, said the gigapixel images can bring out details that might not be visible to ordinary museum-goers in a gallery. But scholars will still want a three-dimensional view of the art, which even a very high-resolution two-dimensional image can’t provide.

In any event, the degree of access in this visually appealing, easy to use, highly publicized and free web site is unparalleled. Without it, images of this iconic painting are hard for the general public to appreciate in detail, unless they buy a (two-dimensional) poster or book. That painting is located at MoMA in midtown Manhattan. Admission to the MoMA costs $20 for adults, $12 for students, and free on Friday nights. MoMA has approximately 2.1 million visitors per year, averaging 6.7 thousand visitors per day they are open — 16 visitors per minute — many of whom are interested in the same famous van Gogh painting. Despite being painted in 1889, and long since out of copyright, MoMA maintains strict control over photos which visitors might want to take home or share. According to their guidelines: “Still photography for personal use is permitted in collection galleries only… No photographs or videotapes may be reproduced, distributed, or sold without permission from the Museum.” — All the more reason that MoMA and the other 17 museums are to be commended for facilitating this project.

This is one of the reasons that Jonathan Jones writes at the Guardian says:

“Google’s Art Project is a profoundly enriching encounter, one that really starts to break down the difference between viewing a reproduction and seeing it in the flesh. It deserves to succeed.”

And Julian Raby, director of the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art in Washington said:

“The giga-pixel experience brings us very close to the essence of the artist through detail that simply can’t be seen in the gallery itself … Far from eliminating the necessity of seeing artworks in person, Art Project deepens our desire to go in search of the real thing.”

Dr. Raby’s comments echo those by made by Walter Benjamin makes in his 1936 essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Brian Croxall points out in the essay, Benjamin considers the effect that photography, phonography, lithography, and more have on the “aura” or authenticity of an art work. On the other hand, he noted, “Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.” Benjamin is clear that reproductions are better than originals in at least one concrete way:

…process reproduction is more independent of the original than manual reproduction. For example, in photography, process reproduction can bring out those aspects of the original that are unattainable to the naked eye yet accessible to the lens, which is adjustable and chooses its angle at will. And photographic reproduction, with the aid of certain processes, such as enlargement or slow motion, can capture images which escape natural vision.

To examine this more closely with students, The New York Times Learning Network posted a lesson plan, “Real vs. Virtual: Examining Works of Art Online.”

This project did not start as an official Google strategy. Nelson Mattos, Google’s vice-president for engineering, said the Google Art Project started off as one of the company’s “20% projects.” (All Google employees to take a fifth of their time away from their regular day job, to work on innovations.) Google managed all theartwork photography, capture of the Street View imagery, and negotiations with museums. Negotiations could be a drag, and some museums resisted giving free access to their images. Absent are two of the most popular and important museums, the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay, both in Paris. Amit Sood, leader of the Google Art Project, said “We approached as many museums as we could…But you can only wait so long for people to come on board. We just decided to stop at 17.” Google outsourced some of the design to a media agency, Schematic. In an interview with CNET, Jason Brush, the executive vice president for user experience at Schematic said:

“One of the first issues we had to face was making sure that the site wasn’t itself a meta-museum. The museums themselves have the cultural and civic onus to present the artworks in their collections in whatever way that’s appropriate to their mission. We didn’t want to usurp that. So, the pressure stemmed from not just making sure that the site was enjoyable and easy-to-use because of it’s cultural value, but also because we needed to create a model that drew a clear distinction between the live, in-person museum-going experience…a whole new model for viewing art… We did make some design decisions vis-a-vis unique aggregation of content from many museums. For instance, on the home page, we chose to randomize which museum gets highlighted on load. We didn’t want it always to be the museum at the top of the list.”

Elizabeth Merritt, founding director of AAM’s Center for the Future of Museums, called the walk-through technology an interesting experiment, and the kind of experiment that most museums can’t produce on their limited budgets. She liked the personalization, citing that ”It certainly fits with the research we’ve been doing that people like to create their own experiences and their own mash-ups and share them with other people,” but she questioned the appeal of looking at art and galleries on a computer screen.

Marsha Semmel, deputy director for museums at the Institute of Museum and Library Services, said in the Post article that online collections should strive to create connections between material held by different institutions.

Art Thieves Toss Most Valuable Piece (ABC News)

By Bazi Kanani | ABC News – Mon, Nov 12, 2012


Art thieves who apparently weren’t art lovers robbed the Pretoria Art Museum of five paintings worth more than $2 million.

But they tossed a sixth work, the most valuable piece in their haul, on the ground and left it behind.

“My first reaction was, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe that somebody just walked in and walked out with a whole lot of artworks,'” said Imre Lamprecht, head of the art department at South African art auction house Stephan Welz & Co.

Museum management told the Beeld newspaper the robbers pretended to be museum visitors before they pulled out guns and a “shopping list” of paintings which they forced an employee to help them find. They left with five paintings by prominent South African artists including works by Irma Stern and Gerard Sekoto, each worth about $1 million.

“All the artists they took are artists who are doing brilliantly in South Africa and internationally,” said Lamprecht. “These works are some of the best works they would have produced.”

As the thieves made their escape, they tossed a sixth painting on the ground outside the museum, possibly because it did not fit into their getaway car. Stern’s “Two Malay Musicians,” worth about $1.4 million, was recovered.

“Obviously these thieves didn’t know anything about art because that is not the painting whoever hired them would want them to leave behind,” said Lamprecht.

She said the late Stern is probably the most famous of the artists whose work is on display at the museum. Her expressionism masterpiece “Arab Priest” sold for nearly $5 million last year.

Lamprecht said even though the value of South African art has risen since the end of apartheid, security at public museums is severely lacking. Many museums have outdated security systems and no guards.

“I hope the government learns a lesson and puts in security structures that keep our art and heritage safe,” said Lamprecht.

Picasso Painting Vandalized in Houston (ABC News)

By | ABC News Blogs – Tue, Jun 19, 2012 8:27 AM EDT

Police are using security and cellphone video to locate a man who vandalized Pablo Picasso’s famous painting, “Woman in a Red Armchair,” at a museum in Houston.

A fellow museum patron’s cellphone camera caught the moment when a man at Houston’s Menil Collection, which hosts nine Picassos, vandalized the 1929 painting. The painting was doused with gold spray paint in the image of a bull and the word “conquista,” according to police, who said the vandal then fled.

“I’m shocked that he just did it, and unabashedly just ran up and did it,” teacher Isaias Torres said .

Museum officials say the crime occurred last week.

The museum staff houses a conservation lab on site and workers are racing to clean the painting. Museum spokesman Vance Muse told the Houston Chronicle that “repair work began immediately” and that the painting “has an excellent prognosis.”

Art collector Matthew Hewitt said, “It’s excellent that it can be repaired for historic reasons, it’s excellent that it can be repaired, for the respect of Houston, for the defamation of any kind of historical art, and the name of Picasso.”

The museum was unable to estimate the painting’s worth, but similar Picassos have sold for tens of millions of dollars. No arrests have been made.

Louvre goes visual with Nintendo 3Ds guide (Associated Press)

By JAMEY KEATEN | Associated Press – Thu, Apr 12, 2012


PARIS (AP) — The Louvre Museum is used to dealing with antiquities: Nearly all of its thousands of works of art date to 1848 or earlier. Now, it wants to create a relic of its own — the old museum audio guide.

The famed Paris museum, whose origins date to the 18th century, is pressing on toward modernity and going visual with new electronic guides in a deal with Japan’s Nintendo. The guide provides 3DS game consoles that offer touch-screen, visual-and-audio guidance for visitors who teem the museum’s labyrinthine halls by the millions each year.

Billed as an unprecedented innovation at a museum, the game consoles launched this week offer 700 recordings on famed works like the Venus de Milo, Winged Victory of Samothrace and the Mona Lisa — only a tiny sliver of the 35,000-odd works displayed in the museum.

The electronic guides, both navigational and informative, offer virtual glimpses of the artistic touches that are tough for the naked eye to see, like tiny details on towering tableaux on the museum’s wood-paneled walls. They’ll use much of the same information in the Louvre’s now-shelved audio guides.

Pairing France’s highest-of-high-brow museums with a Japanese technology company behind games like Donkey Kong, Mario Brothers and Zelda might not seem like a natural fit. And some may view the electronic guide as a shop window for Nintendo. But Louvre officials say the museum must change with the times, and try to access as wide a public possible.

Over the years, the Louvre has drawn controversy with some of its innovations, including the glass-pyramid entrance by Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei or its sharing parts of its massive collection with wealthy countries like the United Arab Emirates — which is to open a Louvre affiliate in 2015.

Above all, the console is meant to reach out to the Louvre’s customer base: the museum welcomed 8.9 million visitors last year — more than half of them under age 30, and about two-thirds foreign.

The guides, for now available in seven languages, cost €5 ($6.50) on top of the museum’s €10 ($13) standard admission price. And coming soon: French sign language.

Press a button, and the viewer virtually floats over, say, statues by Michelangelo, or zooms up close on the tiny cracks in the face of the Mona Lisa — all but impossible to see from behind a crowded rope line.

The console comes in handy peering high up at Veronese’s 60-square-meter (645-square-foot) painting “The Wedding at Cana,” across from the Mona Lisa. Details of the giant tableau easily seen on screen can be checked against the real thing.

The biggest benefit may be helping art lovers get around: Visitors see their location, which blinks inside a diagram of exhibit rooms on one of the console’s two screens. A menu allows for a specific search for one of 50 of the museum’s most popular works and can plot a path to get there. Another feature is a “masterpieces” walk.

Because of the Louvre’s thick walls, and because some of its exhibit spaces are underground, 3G mobile phone networks don’t reach everywhere inside. The positioning system relies on beacons posted around the museum.

Nintendo’s director-general for France, Stephan Bole, insisted the console isn’t aimed as a substitute for a live, in-person visit: Virtual isn’t the same thing as seeing the works themselves.

“The 3DS is to assist a visit that remains live — you have to see the paintings to appreciate them,” he said by phone. “We want to complement the real live visit.”

Many visitors were spotted wandering around with the new 3DS guides Thursday afternoon. But some, asked about how they liked them, complained of a steep learning curve.

“The classic, usual audio guide works better. I would have to search for the information that’s on this, instead of just pressing the number” next to a work of art, said Naoyuki Tomizawa, a 41-year-old IT manager from Tokyo.

Then a Louvre staffer showed how the console can do that, too.

“Oh, I didn’t notice that,” Tomizawa replied. “I haven’t played around with it enough. The navigation part’s good, when you get lost and don’t know where you are.”

Meera Bickley, a 45-year-old yoga teacher from Byron Bay, Australia, said she arrived too late in the day — shortly before closing — and could have used more time to figure out the console.

“Once I figured out how to use it, it was definitely helpful. The imagery was great, the maps … but actually finding my way in and being able to use it, was quite complex,” she said. “I was born in the wrong decade!”

Indeed, her 14-year-old daughter, Matilda Dods, said it was easy.

“I figured it out immediately. It gives you instructions on the screen. It says: press ‘A’ to get this and press ‘B’ to get this … it’s easy to figure out,” said Dods. “Mom is challenged.”

Matisse painting stolen in 1987 recovered in UK (Associated Press)

By JILL LAWLESS | Associated Press – Tue, Jan 8, 2013


LONDON (AP) — A Henri Matisse painting stolen in 1987 from a Swedish museum by a thief wielding a sledgehammer has been recovered, an art specialist and a dealer said Tuesday.

The Art Loss Register, which tracks stolen, missing and looted art, says “Le Jardin” was found when a British dealer checked the picture against the group’s database before selling it.

Dealer Charles Roberts, who runs Charles Fine Art in southern England, said he was shocked to discover the painting was stolen.

“It’s not something that happens every day,” Roberts said. “I’m glad I found out now rather than later.”

Roberts said the current Polish owner, whom he did not name, had bought the Impressionist artwork in good faith 20 years ago.

Christopher Marinello, a lawyer working with the London-based Art Loss Register, said the 1920 painting, valued at about $1 million, would be returned to Stockholm’s Moderna Museet. It was snatched from the gallery during a nighttime raid in May 1987.

The museum’s director, Daniel Birnbaum, said it was “extremely gratifying that the painting has surfaced after so long.”

“We are reassured that the painting appears to be in good condition and look forward to having someone from the museum staff look at it,” he said.

Birnbaum said he was in contact with the Swedish Culture Ministry about the formal return of the painting.

Marinello said it was up to Swedish police to decide whether to try to track down the thieves.


Associated Press Writer Karl Ritter in Stockholm contributed to this report.