The web has expanded the reach of art but nothing compares to standing up for Picasso | Kinan Malik

IIt’s been over 30 years since I saw Pablo Picasso Guernica Face to face, as it were, in the Prado Museum in Madrid, shortly before it was transferred to the Reina Sofia Museum, where it still hangs. Painted in 1937 in anger at Germany’s bombing of the Basque city by order of Franco’s Nationalist forces during the Spanish Civil War, Picasso refused to allow its residence in Spain until democracy was restored.

I’ve seen dozens of pictures of the board. But nothing can prepare me to stand before him. There was, first of all, its sheer size, something that no photograph could depict. Guernica It stands over 3.49m x 7.76m. Don’t watch the painting often as the painting wraps around you and you are drawn to its emotions and intensity.

The compression of space, the opacity of perspective, and the splitting of bodies all seem much more evident when you watch the action in real life. Once again, the absence of color, in black and white and muted grey, is more evident in the gallery than it is in any reproduction. I saw the details that eluded me in another way: the third bull’s-eye looking straight out of the canvas; Tension in the arm of the severed man holding a broken sword; The dove that is barely visible, half disassembled. I stood before Picasso’s masterpiece, overwhelmed with a sense of disillusionment and horror that no clone could convey. Thirty years later, the profound strength of Guernica He still lives with me.

I saw Guernica Soon a new way of displaying art appeared – the Internet. For the past 30 years, museums and galleries have been from Metropolitan Museum in New York to The Museum of Islamic Art in QatarFrom The National Museum in New Delhi for kids Lin Museum In Norfolk, they put a lot of their collections online, and made them available to millions, a cultural treasure that would otherwise have been denied them.

However, the growth of online collections has also generated an intense debate about the virtues of a physical versus virtual museum, and how digital should relate to realism. Last week, that debate took a new turn when the New York Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) announced that it was 29 physical paintings sold by auction, including masterpieces by Picasso, Monet, and Bacon, to help “create an endowment for digital media and technology”. What that means in practice is not clear. What the MoMa movement has done, however, is to revive the debate about the merits of the actual and the virtual.

The idea of ​​a virtual museum is not new. Fifty years ago, long before the advent of the World Wide Web, the French novelist, critic and former Minister of Culture, André Malraux, wrote about “Museum Without Walls”which collected the perfect art collection for each person.

Writing decades before the Internet, the technology Malraux envisioned making this possible was primitive. The ability that the Internet affords museums and galleries to put their collections online brings us closer to a museum without walls; A museum is not limited by physical space or by opening and closing times but allows any number of people to access the collection they want at any time. Online collections also allow us to access information about an object or painting, put it in a historical and social context, and relate to stories about it, in a way that no physical museum can.

However, there are no number of pictures of Picasso Guernica It can prepare me for the actual painting experience, so no degree of sophistication in the digital experience can reproduce the reality of seeing a work of art in front of you. In part, it arises from physical differences, from the importance of texture and size, and the qualities inherent in a physical object but not in an image on the screen.

More important, perhaps, is what the American curator Anne Mintz calls the “metaphysical” adjective in viewing a real being absent from a hypothetical reproduction. One relates to a physical work of art in a different way than a virtual object. Studies have shown that people spend more time viewing a physical object in a museum than the same thing online and often have an emotional response to it in a way that rarely happens in a virtual space.

It is a distinction that is not limited to art. There is a similar difference between listening to music at home and enjoying it at a live concert or at an opera house. Music will undoubtedly be much better acoustically at home, but there is an indescribable quality to watching music being produced and performed live, and in the company of others, no recording, CD or broadcast can be imitated.

Or make a distinction between watching live sports and watching TV. There is a lot to be said about television sports. Not only the comfort of the sofa, but also the ability of the camera to capture moments and details you wouldn’t have seen in the stadium. However, nothing can take away the emotional charge of watching a match in real life, seeing Mohamed Salah or Venus Williams performing their miracles right now, crammed with thousands of others involved in the same endeavor.

Or even, in its own way, consider the importance of the ritual and physical relationships we’ve seen in the past week for so many people. All of this tells us something about being human. From the physical importance of our world to our appreciation for it. The importance of the social context in which we engage with the world, too, is to be able to deal with it not as individuals but as part of a crowd or group.

The Internet has changed our lives and democratized our relationship with art. But in doing so, she also revealed the importance of the physical and the physical. He showed us how, paradoxically, the materiality of life embodies an unspeakable quality that virtual reality cannot match.

Kanaan Malik is a columnist for the Observer

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