Vermeer virtually.
Vermeer virtually. JK
I have not seen Johannes Vermeer's "Woman Holding a Balance" (1663) since I was 17. And even then, it was probably shrunken down to fit onto a page in a glossy, heavy textbook or briefly shown in an educational video put on in the last ten minutes of class. I do remember being entranced by it—how delicately the pregnant woman held the balance between her index finger and thumb; the glow of the jewelry on the table in the soft light of the window above; the Last Judgment just over her shoulder. It was so fucking domestic and, as far as vanitas goes, pretty on the nose.

It was weird when I "stumbled" upon that painting again, but this time in Augmented Reality (AR). Big Daddy Google launched a Pocket Gallery feature on their Arts and Culture app in late 2018, allowing viewers to scan their surroundings with a phone so a virtual exhibition can be dumped wherever they please with their phone acting as a kind of looking glass. Real Big Brother shit. And even though this virtual Vermeer exhibition with all 36 of his paintings from across the globe has been around since the feature launched, encountering it now is different—I'd been previously unable to see it because of distance and time; now a pandemic prevents everyone from seeing it.

I miss being in a museum. I miss the contemplative quiet, the random artists sitting in the galleries trying to replicate an old master's paintings with charcoal, the flush of the bathrooms in the distance, the moment when an errant brushstroke or object you never noticed before captures your attention. But examining Vermeer's painting on my couch had its perks too. Namely in my appreciation of the way the Dutch artist rendered the light coming through the window as I gazed at the work on my screen, bathing in the cloudy gray brightness of Seattle that I imagine is not unlike the skies above 17th century Netherlands. All brought to you by a similarly shadowy, museum-like corporate intermediary.

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