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Would van Gogh Instagram?

Technology helps bring classical art to the masses

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Chris Otis snaps a photo of an Albert Marquet painting on the final day of the 100 Masters: Only in Canada exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery Monday.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Chris Otis snaps a photo of an Albert Marquet painting on the final day of the 100 Masters: Only in Canada exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery Monday. Photo Store

Paulette and Brian Decka were just entering the Winnipeg Art Gallery when they stopped a stranger to ask him to take their picture in front of a Rembrandt poster.

A memory of their 41st anniversary outing.

But it wasn't the first time Paulette posed with a piece of art history. About 10 years ago, the Winnipeg couple was visiting the Louvre when she got her husband to snap a quick shot of her with Mona Lisa, da Vinci's masterpiece.

"I had my picture taken with the most famous painting in the world," Paulette said, gushing a decade later. "When I came home, I had a memory of it. Proof that I was there, too."

The Deckas were about to enter the WAG for the 100 Masters: Only in Canada exhibition -- the most successful art display in the gallery's 100-year history, with nearly 60,000 visitors since opening in May and upwards of $500,000 in corporate sponsorship. Monday was the final day of the exhibit.

'It's something about the DNA to stand in front of that Picasso or that Monet or that van Gogh' -- the WAG's Stephen Borys

Paintings dating back 500 years -- from Rembrandt to Gainsborough to van Gogh to Picasso to Warhol -- to the present day have been gathered from over 30 museums across Canada by WAG curator and CEO Stephen Borys. It was that mix of classical and new -- and the number of visitors who were allowed to take iPhone shots of most works -- that posed some interesting questions.

For example, if Leonardo da Vinci was alive today, would he have taken pictures of the mysterious Mona Lisa on his smartphone and posted them on his Facebook page? Would Mona Lisa have taken a selfie? And what would it have meant if images of art -- especially artists who became famous posthumously -- could have spread throughout the known world in literally seconds?

Imagine Vincent van Gogh, who practically invented the selfie in canvas form, tweeting Starry Night Over the Rhone? Or would artists despise such technology, seeing it as a soul-sucking affront to their precious works?

Either way, the days of preventing art patrons from capturing their own brush with artistic greatness in the era of omnipresent cellphone cameras are fast drawing to a close. But that same technology simply cannot compete with the experience of viewing the real thing up close and personal, Borys insisted.

"I'm amazed in this day when you can look at a Rembrandt on your computer screen at a much better resolution -- you can zoom right into the Mona Lisa on your screen," he said. "But people are still connected to the object. It's something about the DNA to stand in front of that Picasso or that Monet or that van Gogh -- that cannot be replicated on a screen.

"It's fascinating how these objects fit into our lives," Borys added, "even those ones painted 500 years ago. It's kinda weird."

Do you think van Gogh would Instagram?

"Totally," Borys replied. "I do more and more on Twitter and people aren't just tweeting images, they're tweeting pictures of themselves next to the image or in the space with their friends and their family. It's a way we communicate."

Hence the WAG's decision to adjust their regulations regarding picture taking in the galleries. At 100 Masters, visitors were allowed to take photos of the majority of paintings and exhibits, but for a few works that are copyrighted.

"People... it's part of their life, these objects," Borys reasoned. "Museums pretty much across the country have adjusted their photography guidelines."

If anything, Borys believes modern technology helps break down barriers that have existed for centuries between classical art and the masses.

"Art museums still have that mantel of elitism," he allowed. "That's the one thing I'm trying to dismantle. Because if we're going to be relevant for the next 100 years we have to really respond to the audiences. All the people who drive by the WAG or walked by the WAG and wondered, 'What do they do in there?' Those are the people I wanted to come in. That's how you make a difference."

These days, however, Borys points proudly to the WAG's 8,500 Twitter followers as a sign of connection with the community.

"The WAG is becoming more relevant in people's lives," he said. "People feel it's theirs, you know."

Shauna Schofield was taking iPhone shots on a tour with her four-year-old son, Kieran. Schofield wondered what some of history's most famous artists would have felt about images of their work spreading around the globe at the push of a button.

"I think it really opens it (various artworks) up to a crowd that wouldn't necessarily come to see the exhibit," Schofield reasoned.

"A lot of people who didn't come (to the WAG) can see my photos if I post them on Facebook. How would the artists (of centuries past) think about it? I don't know. But you can't stop the sharing of media."

randy.turner@freepress.mb.caww

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 3, 2013 0

History

Updated on Tuesday, September 3, 2013 at 6:53 AM CDT: adds photo

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