Do paintings, like people, have a fabricated online persona, and a different, “real” character offline? Or do paintings, like people, have one real existence, different aspects of which are manifested online and in the real world?
These Albrecht Dürer Facsimile Objects have been propped, taped, and laid out in front of me for a little more than a week now, and while I expected them to live different than their 500-yo painted counterparts, I am struck by how they also differ from their digital images.
There is no more than two paintings by Albrecht Dürer in a public collection in the United Kingdom. One is this swirling, brushy depiction of an explosive, cosmic phenomenon on a small pearwood panel. The other, a meticulous devotional picture of St. Jerome in the wilderness, is on the other side of the same panel. The panel was only attributed to Dürer in 1957, and was acquired by the National Gallery in London in 1996.
Like all England’s museums, the National Gallery has been closed to visitors since December 2020, when a Tier 3 lockdown went into effect to reduce the transmission of the COVID-19 virus. According to current government indicators, museums will remain closed until at least May 17. So assuming it’s really by him, England’s only Dürers will remain inaccessible for at least several more weeks.
While considering whether an Albrecht Dürer Facsimile Object could offer even a partial experiential hedge during this challenging, Dürerless time, another, similar Dürer suddenly became similarly inaccessible.
Another small oil, c. 1492, depicts a swirling abstraction of sliced agate or other hardstone, painted with a transparency that permits the grain of the fir panel to show through. On the other side of this panel is another small devotional painting, a gold ground picture of Christ, Man of Sorrows, which was attributed to Dürer a few years before 1941, when the Nazis’ favorite art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt sold it to the Musée des Beaux Arts in occupied Strasbourg. It subsequently crossed the Rhine, and is now at the State Kunsthalle in Karlsruhe, which was closed on March 22 when German health officials abruptly declared lockdowns to thwart a “third wave” of the pandemic. The government then changed some restrictions after a backlash, but I think the Kunsthalle is closed until at least April 18.
“If a work is on Google Street View, does it even need a Facsimile Object?” is a question that came to mind. But then I wondered what would happen if these two works were decoupled from the paintings they are physically twinned with, the works they were fated to be “behind,” always understudied and overshadowed by? Facsimile Objects might hit different with this not-quite-a-pair. So let’s see.
Earlier this week a restored original animated gif of nyan cat sold for 300 Ethereum. And today the order book was closed for Édouard Manet Facsimile Objects when Manet’s painting, le chien Minnay, sold for EUR520,800 in Paris.
Both of these transactions take place in a world where the experience of art is decoupled from a physical artwork. In one case, a digital object is rendered auratic through a purchase premised on an imaginary scarcity. In the other, frank facsimiles of a unique and long unseen object mitigate the inability to travel and experience the object in person.
It was literally not until after the auction of the Manet, despite spending weeks thinking about it, and weeks of seeing people talk about NFTs as Niftys, that I saw that Facsimile Object, abbreviated, could be pronounced faux, as in FO Dog. So you’ll excuse me if I can’t elucidate on the concept of a unique copy of a restored original animated gif.
The day is here, and I am not. Édouard Manet’s Minnay went on public view today at the Drouot galleries in Paris, the first time in its history. It will be on view again tomorrow, and for a brief hour on Friday, before it is sold.
If you are there, or will be there, look at it, study it, and send a pic. But do not get a Manet Facsimile Object (M1), because it will do you no good. It is not intended as a souvenir of your visit, but a cover for the gaping void in the lives of the rest of us who cannot see the painting itself.
Now that I got the size right–or closer to the original, at least–I moved to the question of whether the Manet Facsimile Object (M1) should be cropped or not.
As soon as I put this triptych up on the wall, I saw that the tidier, cropped version on the right not only misses a couple of brush strokes that you’d kind of want to keep; Minnay is slightly larger, too. So I ordered a slightly smaller version, the equivalent of slicing off the unfinished 1/4″ edges of the uncropped object in the center. That should be a definitive pair from which to make a decision.
And then I found a brief video about Minnay on Drouot Estimation’s Instagram. There is the painting, fierce and frameless, on a tiny chevalet de table, and I cannot believe there’s even a question. It’s a facsimile object, after all, not a facsimile picture.
And if you want to display your Manet Facsimile Object on a Sennelier RS N.24 support de table en bois, I heartily approve. [I’m still going to look at the cropped and uncropped versions side by side, though; because it’s on the way.]
Orders are coming in, facsimile objects are being needed, and so certificates of authenticity must also be realized. So I’ve been thinking about them.
The 1:1:1 scale of the certificate to the facsimile object to the work felt right immediately for many logical, conceptual, historical, and aesthetic reasons.
The coexistence of the certificate and the object remind me of Walter de Maria’s High Energy Bar, an infinite series he insisted was not a multiple, but which he also considered to unite with its certificate of authenticity to become a distinct work, a High Energy Unit. De Maria bought his fancy certificates from the old-timey stock certificate printer, and kept the registry of owners’ names secure, he promised, in a Swiss vault.
Obviously, when it comes to embodying Manets, Stephen Prina’s Exquisite Corpse: The Complete Paintings of Manet (1988– ) comes to mind. I do not envision making a career of making 556 Manet facsimile objects. The circumstances that compel this one are highly specific and, if civilization (sic) can get its socio-political act together and end this pandemic, very limited. Please do not let the world of Manets exist beyond our experiential reach for much longer.
Anyway, though I have a deep spot in my heart for the monochrome, I feel like making a monochrome ink wash Minnay would end up more a Prina Facsimile Object than a certificate of authenticity for this Manet Facsimile Object. So I’m still thinking, staring, and experimenting, but soon I will also be getting paper of the appropriate size.
Also, I guess I wrote this in 2009:
Interestingly, though there are hundreds of mentions of High Energy Bar, there were only two mentions of the “complete” piece, High Energy Unit. [It makes me start to wonder about the underappreciated existence our poor certificates must lead, even as they’ve become so important to the authenticity and integrity of the work. Is anyone else making sexy artist certificates–or art about certificates, even–that remain ignored or unknown by everyone but the work’s purchaser? Will an artist make a work whose aesthetic or artistic payoff is actually the [secret] certificate itself? If you have or know of any awesome certificates languishing in any file cabinets out there, by all means, let me know.]