Tim's Vermeer

While George Clooney and his Monuments Men search for art stolen by the Nazis in World War II, inventor Tim Jenison uses this potently provocative documentary to accuse 17th-century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer of cheating. Say what? You heard me. Jenison, the founder of New Tek and an innovator in computer graphics, theorizes that Vermeer used optical aids of the period, including camera obscura and even a simple mirror, to achieve the photo-realistic look of his paintings. Jenison marshalls experts in the field, notably artist David Hockney and author-mathematician Philip Steadman to bolster his argument. More crucially, Jenison sets out to demonstrate his hypothesis by reproducing the scene of Vermeer's "The Music Lesson" in his studio warehouse in San Antonio, Texas, using only the materials available at in the 1600s to actually trace it on canvass. You may go in expecting the excitement level of watching paint dry. What you get instead is a stimulating detective story that holds you in thrall. Jenison spent five years on his experiment, sharing his struggles and successes with the comedy-and-magic team of Penn and Teller, enlisting Teller to direct and Penn to narrate and help us connect the dots. Art purists can relax since Jenison, a video wiz with little talent for painting, never really challenges Vermeer's genius for conception and composition. Technology is the thing at issue here. And you don't have to be a science geek to realize that art and technology may have been BFFs for much longer than we think.

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