A new 3D printing technique in Europe could threaten the value of the world’s most prized works of art.
The proprietary technique is being used by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, which has partnered with Fujifilm to produce three-dimensional reproductions of Vincent Van Gogh’s masterpieces.
Called “Relievos” by the museum, the replicas are of extremely high quality and will set you back £22,000, or just under $US29,000. The museum is planning to sell 260 limited edition copies — all numbered and stamped — for both collectors and educational purposes.
The high-tech copies are created through a special 3D technique known as Reliefography, which combines a three-dimensional scan of the painting with a high-resolution print, according to The Guardian.
Basically, the finished product is an extremely realistic copy of the painting down to the brush strokes, frame, and artist’s signature.
For art historians, the replicas are particularly exciting because they include the backs of the paintings. The stamps, dates, and signatures on the underside of fine works of art are rarely witnessed, except by experts and in photographs by scholars — and wholly ignored in most reproduction works.
But because these copies are so exact, it has people wondering if the Relievos could threaten the art market.
Izabella Kaminska at FT Alphavillethinks it’s entirely possible, though not as the technology currently exists (registration required). She writes:
Some time soon it is highly likely that the naked eye will no longer be able to differentiate between reproductions and originals, and that the only way to know for sure which is which will be to carbon date or test the materials microscopically.
She goes on to imagine a world where replicas and original works are molecularly identical:
Value then becomes entirely an eye of the beholder thing. In logical terms the value of the Mona Lisa should collapse, especially so if the clue to authenticity is lost or diluted entirely. If the painting stays valued it’s because a narrative, myth of belief system has been attached to that particular version of the object — much as happens with sacred relics or superstitious charms.
After all, functionally speaking, an molecularly perfect substitute provides exactly the same utility. To believe an original is worth more than a perfect clone is to fall for hype and propaganda. What does it matter if you have an original Leonardo or not? You may believe yours is the original or superior version due to an intangible and undetectable attribute, but so can everyone else.
Her point is a valid one — if you can create molecularly perfect copies that can beat carbon dating tests, what would stop the price of famous works of art from dropping?
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Given the current technology, a “Relievos” is about as big a threat to the art market as a really good counterfeit work
— that is to say, not that big of a threat at all.
Thanks to carbon dating, museums can tell which is the real work and which is the counterfeit.
And anyway, the people who are willing to pay the $US29,000 for a very good copy are not going to be the same ones bidding on the original multi-million dollar Van Gogh piece. These are two very separate markets.
But let’s say for the sake of argument that someday the technology is good enough to replicate art at the molecular level. Assuming the high-tech replicas would beat carbon dating, then the work’s provenance or — history of ownership — would become the key factor in determining market cost.
A replica, even one that’s molecularly perfect, would lose its value because it could not be confirmed it was created by the original artist. But works that can be proven authentic will retain their value.
Of course, it’s highly preliminary to even be having this discussion. It took Fujifilm over seven years to develop the current technology, and it could take decades before it’s possible to produce a perfect clone.
So far, the Vincent Van Gogh Museum has reproduced “Almond Blossom” (1890), “Sunflowers” (1889), “The Harvest” (1888), “Wheatfield under Thunderclouds” (1890), and “Boulevard de Clichy” (1887). Further copies are planned, with revenue raised going towards planned renovations and the preservation of the museum’s collection, according to The Guardian.
If you’re wondering who will be buying these $US29,000 replicas, look no further than China. “There was enormous interest there. We had people there who bought on the spot,” Axel Rüger, the museum’s director, told The Guardian. “For someone interested in Van Gogh, this is the closest you can get to the original without it being the original. There is a certain fascination about that.”
Ultimately, these Relievos are high-quality knockoffs, — not the end of the high-end art market.
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