Coming soon to a movie theater near you: Johannes Vermeer

April 11th, 2013

After traveling blockbuster art exhibitions, art enthusiasts can begin queuing up to enjoy the great masters in front of their local cinema. The silver screen, let’s remember, has traditionally dodged the company of great painters except for a few Hollywood films of questionable educational value: Rembrandt, 1936 starring Charles Laughton; Van Gogh, 1956 starring Kirk Douglas and Vermeer, 2003 starring Colin Firth.

Three new movies, featuring “superstars” (lets get used to the hard-earned status) Manet, Munch and our man Johannes Vermeer, will air in over 1,000 theaters worldwide. The art art historian-narrator Tim Marlow calls them “VIP guided tours.” Aside from the fact that the domination “VIP” is overwhelmingly synonymous with bad taste, the high-definition documentaries aim at bringing the arts closer to unsuspecting millions around the world.

The films will feature Marlow explaining why each artist, sorry, superstar, is special, interlaced with curator interviews, artist profiles and backstage tours in 90-minutes, for an average price of $12.50. Julie Borchard-Young, co-owner of BY Experience, the company distributing the broadcasts, believes it is “a way for an armchair traveler to come to the arts world, have it brought to them.” The new BY Experience films will attempt to build upon niche success of its live series from the Met Opera and London’s National Theatre.

Whether one can define cinema and blockbuster art exhibitions as private or public experiences, it would be interesting to investigate if they factually stimulate viewers to seek out art on their own and form individual points of view or encourage them to take a passive posture and wait for the prepackaged experiences to be delivered at their door like the latest Amazon order via FedEx.

In any case, marketing fine art seems to be good money. The MET realized $11 million from the opera broadcasts last year, Rigoletto took in $2.6 million in North America, ranking it No. 12 in the weekend box office, beating Argo and Lincoln. Next stop, Vermeer vs. Transformers IV.

A reminder, the paintings are still there, where they always were.

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