Johannes Vermeer was a Dutch painter who was part of the Dutch Golden Age of the mid-17th century. His most recognizable work is Girl with the Pearl Earring. Dr. Shin-Ichi Fukuoka is a molecular biologist and an award-winning author whose publications include Between Organic and Inorganic and Dynamic Equilibrium. He is also a self-proclaimed Vermeer otaku.
Otaku is the Japanese term for people who have interests that border on the obsessive, and in most cases it’s negative in the sense that the word describes super-nerds who don’t get out much. But Dr. Fukuoka, a professor of biology at Aoyama Gakuin University in Japan and visiting professor at Rockefeller University in New York City, has been all over the world to fuel his passion for Vermeer; he has seen all but two of the Dutch painter’s original 37 works in person. (Lady at the Virginal with a Gentleman is in Queen Elizabeth’s Royal Collection, and The Concert was stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990.)
His love affair with the works of Vermeer began right here in New York City. While taking a break from work at Rockefeller University, Dr. Fukuoka wandered into the Frick Collection, where he saw his first Vermeer. It was love at first sight. In 2013 The New York Times featured Dr. Fukuoka’s affinity for Vermeer when Golden Age paintings were exhibited together at the Frick Collection.
For the past three weeks, Dr. Fukuoka has shared that love of all things Vermeer with New Yorkers in an exhibition he carefully curated, RE-CREATE NYC 2015: Discovering the Life and Works of Johannes Vermeer. On display at Openhouse Gallery until Saturday, March 21, Re-CREATE NYC 2015 is the first international showcase of all 37 Vermeer paintings reproduced by state-of-the-art digital imaging and printing techniques. Working with the blessing of the Vermeer Center Delft, Dr. Fukuoka consulted with artists and developed a small team that painstakingly re-created each Vermeer work to match and even enhance the color of the original paintings. Japanese printing company Kosaido digitally re-mastered the paintings onto linen canvasses. Dr. Fukuoka and his team even matched the frames of each painting as they are currently displayed in their respective collections in museums around the world.
Dr. Fukuoka describes the process in this YouTube video.
Arranged chronologically, RE-CREATE NYC 2015 shows the progression of Vermeer’s artistry. Vermeer began his career painting large-scale, religious stories read from the Bible, but he gradually developed his own style, which were generally quiet scenes that depicted ordinary life in Vermeer’s hometown of Delft, The Netherlands. There are only two outdoor scenes in Vermeer’s body of work – View of Delft and The Little Street – and the rest are confined to small, dimly lit rooms where one or two people, generally women, handle mundane chores.
For a handful of paintings, guests can dive into the thought process of Dr. Fukuoka and his team through QR codes by downloading a free app called Junaio. For Girl with the Pearl Earring, the app contrasts the way the painting currently looks in the collection of the Mauritshuis in The Hague to Dr. Fukuoka’s re-creation, which he says matches the way the colors must have looked when Vermeer painted it in 1665.
Scanning another QR code leads to the simulation of what is being reflected in a sphere of glass hanging from the ceiling in Allegory of the Catholic Faith.
Dr. Fukuoka’s favorite Vermeer is Woman Holding a Balance. “Dynamic equilibrium is life, so balance is a symbol for me,” says the scientist. “Also, I think the lady is the most beautiful lady in Vermeer’s works.”
The scientist in Dr. Fukuoka links Vermeer to another Delft native, Anton van Leeuwenhoek, the “Father of Microbiology” who made significant improvements to the microscope. While visiting the Royal Society in London in 2009, Dr. Fukuoka developed the theory that Vermeer drew some of the sketches in Leeuwenhoek’s original letters. Dr. Fukuoka also believes that the man depicted in Vermeer’s The Astronomer and The Geographer is Leeuwenhoek.
RE-CREATE NYC 2015 contains 37 paintings, but many believe that there are only 36 works by Vermeer. Dr. Fukuoka says that Girl with a Flute from 1666-67 is a disputed painting, but he believes it could be a Vermeer because of similarities he’s observed. Pointing to Girl with a Flute, Dr. Fukuoka says, “This lady has a blue gown with white fur.” He runs around Openhouse Gallery to The Concert, where he points out that a lady is wearing the same outfit. Smaller details such as the lions heads carved into furniture can be seen in other Vermeers as well. Nothing gets by this Vermeer otaku.
RE-CREATE NYC 2015
Discovering the Life and Works of Johannes Vermeer ends Saturday, March 21.
Openhouse Gallery is located at 201 Mulberry Street between Kenmare and Spring Streets. Admission is $10, free to children under twelve.