Seeing Beyond the Beauty of Vermeer
May 25, 2023 8:03 AM   Subscribe

“Never had I seen a wall so well painted or a human figure so convincingly situated in pictorial space. And all of it was suffused with a light that made it seem more like life itself than like other paintings.”

Hockney–Falco thesis
posted by beesbees at 9:27 AM on May 25 [6 favorites]

Highly recommend a new film called Close to Vermeer which is about the exhibition itself, but more about the drama of putting it together.

One of the main curators is Gregor Weber (you can see him in the trailer linked above), whose new book on Vermeer does draw more evidence that Vermeer was using a Camera Obscura. In particular, it seems that his neighbor, a Jesuit priest, owned and used one.
posted by vacapinta at 9:44 AM on May 25 [4 favorites]

Beyond Vermeer's veneer?
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:56 AM on May 25 [5 favorites]

I can only imagine how disappointed Jonathan Richman was in whoever made that phone video. (He was very adamant that no one take their phones out when I saw him last year, and since he didn't take anyone's phone away I could only imagine he wouldn't have been mad, just disappointed.)

"The Concert" was my favorite painting when I saw it at the Gardner, and I was devastated when it was stolen. Reading this article made me wish I could see it in real life all over again.
posted by pxe2000 at 10:54 AM on May 25

Teju Cole is brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. Read Black Paper. Read Known and Strange Things. Read Open City and Every Day Is for the Thief. He's one of the best writers out there.
posted by oulipian at 11:42 AM on May 25 [10 favorites]

evidence that Vermeer was using a Camera Obscura

Cf also Tim's Vemeer
posted by BWA at 12:15 PM on May 25 [9 favorites]

Tim’s Vermeer is such a fascinating documentary.
posted by Ike_Arumba at 1:01 PM on May 25 [3 favorites]

Yes, you could do a lot worse than search his name here and read through the results.
posted by praemunire at 1:39 PM on May 25

Any work of art is evidence of the material circumstances in which it was produced.

Indeed. It's a long-standing principle of literary criticism.
posted by doctornemo at 2:36 PM on May 25

Sorry, that comment looks a bit like a put-down in retrospect, and I didn't mean it that way.

I wanted to avoid being too academic here on the blue, because I've been dinged for it before. Just wanted to say that this kind of approach to art has deep roots, going back to Marx and others. A good tradition. I like Pierre Macherey on this score.

(Gazes wistfully at memory of PhD exams, nearly back in the Cold War)
posted by doctornemo at 3:06 PM on May 25

That was entrancing and incisive both. I’m looking forward to reading more of Cole. Thanks to Oulipan for the linked suggestions.
posted by aesop at 3:59 PM on May 25 [4 favorites]

Thank you for posting this piece, I thought it was brilliant.

At first I was leery that the objective was to unweave the rainbow, which it does a bit, but Cole clearly comes from a place of deep feeling and awe for Vermeer's talent. There is so much pretentiousness and elitism in this culture surrounding art and the cultural experience that those of us who can't afford to fly to Amsterdam, or even afford a museum admission, feel like we are deprived and impure. Let's temper this 'once-in-a-lifetime exhibit' nonsense, and I say this as someone who appreciates Vermeer very much.
posted by mygraycatbongo at 4:53 PM on May 25 [1 favorite]

I have Open City, Blind Spot, Known and Strange Things - fantastic writing that you really have to read plus excellent photography - but somehow missed Black Paper. I was looking for a good book of essays for summer reading, so very happy for the suggestion. Thank you, oulipian and everyone else.
posted by blue shadows at 11:21 PM on May 25 [1 favorite]

As a resident of Amsterdam, I can say that this has been one interesting exhibit. I agree with Teju Cole's initial perceptions and don't think he should have dropped those criticisms just because he got a free pass:
But I had not been keen on seeing the exhibition, and the reasons why not began to accumulate. The entire run of tickets, some 450,000 of them, sold out within a few weeks of the opening, and even if I did manage to get one, the galleries were sure to be crowded. I was also skeptical of the bluntly narrow focus of the exhibition: a painting by Vermeer, followed by another, followed by another; most successful exhibitions need more context than this. But what was really beginning to grate on me was the breathless critical acclaim.
Those who had seen the show were envied by those who hadn’t. That it represented a “once in a lifetime” experience was taken as gospel.
Amid all this rapturous consensus, critical dissent was hard to come by.
I think all those things are still true. I also think the exhibit is very narrow. There is a great world of 17th century Dutch paintings and if you've never seen a de Hooch, for example, then you have nothing to compare Vermeer with. It is valid to be unimpressed by Vermeer and, honestly, I find some of his lesser paintings to be a bit odd and mediocre.

To their credit, the Mauritshuis has a great small exhibition on Jacobus Vrel right now. And there are regular exhibitions on the likes of de Hooch or even van der Burch or Jan Steen or Van Ostade or Maes or Ter Borch or ... But the Vermeer exhibition has none of this context.

Also, the exhibition went viral as a once-in-a-lifetime exhibit. I've been there twice. The first time, in one of the first few weeks of the show, it was mostly Dutch people who had booked ahead of time when tickets were a-plenty. They were available long before the opening of the show. We had booked to see it again later when my mother-in-law was in town. The second time, was full of international people, mostly upper-class, including elder NYer types in expensive clothing. I got the feeling they were there because it was the thing to do.

Most of these paintings can be seen year-round. The best one in my opinion, The Milk Maid, is right there at the RijksMuseum to be seen anytime.
posted by vacapinta at 4:28 AM on May 26 [4 favorites]

BWA: I enjoyed Tim's Vermeer but part of me kept wondering if it was just a vehicle for another one of Penn's elaborate pranks.
posted by morspin at 6:02 AM on May 26 [1 favorite]

but part of me kept wondering if it was just a vehicle for another one of Penn's elaborate pranks.

posted by doctornemo at 6:15 AM on May 26

Well, it also got a glowing review in the NYT. I trust you will understand I intend no slight against the Dutch when I say that most Americans do not routinely monitor the upcoming exhibitions at the Rijksmuseum.
posted by praemunire at 7:48 AM on May 26 [1 favorite]

...and if you've never seen a de Hooch, for example, then you have nothing to compare Vermeer with.
Upon Googling de Hooch, I am left wondering -- did the Dutch invent bowling as well? To mix a sports metaphor or two: boy, talk about punching above one's weight.
posted by y2karl at 11:34 AM on May 26

VERMEER AND DE HOOCH The Dynamic Duo of Delft provides a good contrast between the two painters and their visual relationship - since their actual relationship is not well documented.

The headquarters of Vermeer info is the website Essential Vermeer. The guy who runs it, Jonathan Janson, is also featured prominently in the movie I linked above as his knowledge about Vermeer is so broad and deep that he was consulted by the curators of the exhibition.
posted by vacapinta at 11:57 AM on May 26

I am medium on Vermeer, but 100% on Teju Cole, who I had heard of, but never read, until now. Thanks for the wonderful post!
posted by dame at 2:25 AM on May 28

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