“…technical reproduction can put the copy of the original into situations which would be out of reach for the original itself. Above all, it enables the original to meet the beholder halfway, be it in the form of a photograph or a phonograph record. The cathedral leaves its locale to be received in the studio of a lover of art; the choral production, performed in an auditorium or in the open air, resounds in the drawing room.”
-Walter Benjamin, 1936
The other day walking down London’s Tottenham Court Road I was struck by the window displays at Heal’s. “Masterpieces”, read the blue lettering printed on the glass.
As part of the sofa displays, very large high-definition reproductions of Van Gogh, Rosetti… in the past such massive reproductions would have been either impossible or incredibly expensive to make.
Digitisation and large format digital printing suddenly announced here as the possibility of not only turning your home into a gallery– this has been going on for more than a century now, with both originals and reproductions of varying quality– but of enlarging art, reproduction as magnification. (Miniaturisation has had a longer tradition– art reproduced in postcards, t-shirts and the like, but high resolution digital files to be printed on plotters is fairly recent). It all had the whiff of an aesthetic preference I tend to relate to drug lords or chain hotels, but hey.
At home I found a blog post on “Heal’s Reveals” (28 March 2013) about it:
At Heal’s, we like to think our sofas are works of art. Viewed from any angle, they are inspirational, sculptural artefacts created by master craftsmen. So that got us thinking… we decided to take some of our most iconic sofas and display them side by side with a complementary work of art – by the likes of Van Gogh, Gainsborough and Rosetti – exquisitely reproduced on large scale canvases by Surface View (creators of amazing bespoke interior print products). The result? Heal’s Masterpieces.
I thought these displays and the fact a company is dedicated to ‘creating bespoke interior print products’ that are giant enlargements of classic artworks was a poignant example of the decay of the aura of original art in the digital age. ‘The cathedral leaves its locale”: the religious image desacralised in its new digitally manipulated giant size, taken to the window display and presumably to the ‘drawing room’ of those whose budget and taste can afford it.
There is indeed an in-between-ness about this concept and images, the concept of department store sofa as a work of art, and the should we say arrogance of the technological power to reproduce, manipulate, enlarge, commoditise, turn into an interior design product. From outside the shop the displays and the images greet us back with our own reflection and the reflection of the city and its passerbys, here yet there, something but not quite that something that was supposed to be once, the promise of what meets us as beholders only ‘halfway’. ‘Masterpieces’: to this beholder, neither art nor interior design, niether here nor there.
I took some photos of the displays and I share them here with you. What would have Walter Benjamin written about them?