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Virtual Art Exhibitions Vs Real Life Visits:


The Changing Face Of Art Shows

Barry Whitehouse - The Artery - Banbury 

As more people are getting used to spending time at home or in smaller 'bubbles’, one could wonder how this affects the large public galleries who have had to make significant changes since lockdown lifted in June.  They need visits, they need funding – however they can be supported needs to be emphasised.

Yet many now wonder why the need to see art in real life when we have technological break throughs allowing virtual tours.  So is there really a need to see art work up close and in person?  Could places like Tate Britain and The Ashmolean soon become a thing of the past?

Major Exhibitions – how often do you go?

With the constant use of the internet, many people claim to have ‘seen’ famous paintings, but even a decent resolution of a painting on a laptop is nothing compared to seeing it first-hand.  We are so used to seeing postcard sized versions of all the paintings that we tend to forget they are all different sizes in real life.  Monet’s loose, Impressionistic waterlilies for example are several metres long and look so detailed when reproduced in a book or on the screen.  I remember after teaching an art history lesson on Renaissance painting and looking at one particular image of the virgin and child on a huge projector screen, the class then went to The Ashmolean, where it was being displayed and couldn’t find it!  It was only the size of the palm of a hand and in a cabinet!

Make a promise this coming year to attend more exhibitions and go to more galleries where possible and see these wonderful art works up close and personal instead of in a book or on a screen – it will mean so much more.

What to look for and ponder when in an Art Gallery:

When visiting galleries, especially large exhibitions of paintings of centuries past in the big city galleries, it is easy to become an art critic and judge the piece for purely how it looks on the gallery wall.  But galleries don’t necessarily display the work how they were intended to be viewed.

My top three questions to ask when viewing famous works of art are:

Who painted it?

Who commissioned it, and why?

Where was it originally designed to be hung?

If you can find the answers to these questions it will put the painting in a whole new light.  For example, many paintings may look distorted or odd on the gallery wall, but that doesn’t mean that the artist was unskilled.  In fact, it means quite the opposite.  When constructing the original artwork, the artists would work around where the painting would be displayed.  Paintings were often only ever intended to be in one position and would be made to fit exactly.  More than that though, if the painting was to be set quite high up in say a large dining room with 18’ high ceilings, then the artist would deliberately distort the proportions so from ground level looking up, the figures and angles looked perfect.  The only snag with this is that centuries later, the painting finds its way into a gallery, and is hung only 6’ high instead of 12’ high.  From this new viewpoint, all of the exaggerated proportions will look very wrong.

Also, by asking who commissioned it, it will give you a deeper understanding of why it looks the way it does.  For example, The Venus of Urbino by Titian in the Uffizi Gallery, was known as ‘Titian’s Beast’, after being called it by Mark Twain, who was deeply scandalised by such a nude piece of art.  He slated it for its vulgarity and the way the nude woman was portrayed.  In reality, this painting was never meant for public viewing.  It was commissioned as a wedding present from a husband to his young bride, and was for the front of a large chest that stayed in their bedroom.  Never was a member of the public meant to see it or understand it.  It was just a private painting between two people.

So sometimes by thinking about a work of art in this way, you get to know far more about it and appreciate it for what it is, rather than making an opinion about something, as Twain did, without knowing the 'whys'.

Barry Whitehouse

The Artery - Banbury

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