When is a Van Gogh not a Van Gogh?


Coming soon to an art fair near you: 3-D reproductions of Vincent Van Gogh paintings.

Introductory price: $35,000 a pop (limited time only).

Horror and shame: The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam is authorizing this junk.

Through the transom Thursday came a news release from a Hollywood public relations firm trumpeting the imminent U.S. launch of -- wait for it -- “Reliefographs,” which are claimed to capture all the textured, painterly bravura of a real Van Gogh masterpiece. Five works from the museum’s collection form the initial batch of copies.

“Van Gogh often used thick applications of paint on his canvas,” says Van Gogh Museum director Axel Rüger, just before coughing up what may be the most remarkable line I’ve seen by someone in a similarly exalted professional position: “These high-quality limited editions allow people [to] acquire their own Van Gogh masterpiece.”

ART: Can you guess the high price?


They do? I thought they allowed someone to buy an expensive, lumpy copy of a masterpiece.

These things will be unveiled in the United States in January when the L.A. Art Show opens at the Convention Center. They’ve already been flogged at an October display in a Taiwan shopping mall -- a venue that recalls the uptown Manhattan store the late Nelson Rockefeller once opened to sell overpriced knockoffs of his Modern art collection. The Rockefeller gambit flopped.

The artificial-Van Gogh offer follows fast on the heels of “The Complete Frida Kahlo: Her Paintings, Her Life, Her Story,” a pseudo-exhibition of 123 replicas of the Mexican painter’s work now at the former San Diego Naval Training Center (tickets: $16.50 for credulous adults). “Completely dishonest” is how San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art director Hugh Davies succinctly described that event to local media.

What’s amazing about the Van Gogh Reliefographs -- and try keeping a straight face when you say it -- is that, for $35,000, one could buy a genuine work of art, rather than some glorified photograph of a work of art. (Fujifilm Belgium developed the reproduction process, which is no doubt trademarked in all the right places.) And an art museum is apparently happy to sell out its important mission for a cut of the profits.

I wonder: We know that one of Vincent’s last paintings showed a flock of black crows, but did he ever paint a swarm of pigeons?


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