In an odd new venture, Amsterdam's esteemed Van Gogh Museum recently began printing limited-edition, three-dimensional copies of some of the most famous paintings in their collection. The museum teamed up with Fujifilm to produce these "Relievos," and they are, in fact, nearly exact replicas. Copies of the famous "Wheatfields under Thunderclouds" and "Sunflowers" are among those available, and project managers hope to increase the diversity of their offerings soon. The textures, colors, and sizes of the paintings are painstakingly recreated with a special technique called "Reliefography." Even the backs and frames of the fakes are modeled after those of the real versions. The catch? Each Relievo costs upwards of $34,000.
It's an interesting idea, and one that other museums around the world have expressed interest in. The museum's aim, reportedly, is to increase the accessibility of their collection. They'll make a pretty penny off the reproductions, but in that sense, it's doubtful that they'll accomplish much. Not everyone is in a position where they can spend over $34,000 on a fake painting, and that includes many schools and most average people who wouldn't necessarily have much access to Van Goghs in the first place. The cost of each Relievo alone is a distorted view of what "accessibility" means for art. That they charge more than what many people make in a whole year for a copy of a famous painting is absurd, and though the sole intention of the project was not to make money, the price certainly can make it seem like it.
There are more practical ways to make art more accessible to the general (and non-wealthy) public, especially at a institution with the clout that the Van Gogh Museum has. New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art, for example, has instituted a large number of very popular activities and classes for children, teens, and adults, many of which are free or close to it. It isn't as though the Van Gogh Museum lacks the resources to implement similar programs. Access to art does not necessarily mean owning a near-perfect copy of a work of art by a well-known painter. It should mean increased ability to learn about and experience art, and selling very expensive fake Van Goghs is not the way to do that.
It is also telling that the series debuted in a shopping mall in Hong Kong: the nature of the project itself speaks to the increased (and unfortunate) commercialization of art. These are not legitimate works, to be sure, but Van Gogh is a famous painter, and many people with the financial resources to spend substantial sums on art are looking for famous painters. The Relievos will be successful primarily because of people seeking brand-name pieces, and since most Van Goghs are housed in permanent collections, this program provides an easy way to buy your own. Though we may be living in a culture obsessed with spending money, it's not a good sign for the art world that "accessibility" translates directly to "ownership." Access to art should be a universal right. Charging more than $34,000 for a Van Gogh that isn't even real seems to be missing the point