Does a 16 billion-pixel online image of The Last Supper point to a new way of looking?
The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth — it is the truth which conceals that there is none.
The simulacrum is true. Ecclesiastes
On 20 April 1963 the French Ministry of Cultural Affairs, led by André Malraux, closed the complex of caves at Lascaux to the public. Preservation was the reason; the paintings had become considerably damaged by an excess of carbon dioxide produced by the steady flow of 1,200 tourists per day. The caves, discovered in 1940, had been opened to the public just 13 years earlier to show off the marvel of some 2000 painted figures dating to the Upper Paleolithic period (15,000-13,000 BCE).
In 1972, 200 metres from the original site, work began on Lascaux II, an exact reproduction of the Great Hall of the Bulls, and the Painted Gallery, two of the six sections of the caves. 20 artists and sculptors led by Monique Peytral created the replica, at a cost of more than 500 million francs, with raw materials believed to have been used 17,000 years before. Lascaux’s simulation was opened to the public in 1983.
In effect, no one will ever see Lascaux again. Rough calculations say that by 2050 only the Lascaux caretakers and a few scholars will have living memory of ever having seen the original cave paintings. Imagine a culture without copies because there are no originals. This is a reworking of two of the most imperative, if woefully underestimated questions of our era poised by Rosalind Krauss when she asked: ‘What would it look like not to repress the concept of the copy? What would it look like to produce a work that acted out of the discourse of reproductions without originals?’ Lascaux II provided an early draft of an answer, and now an online digital image of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper (1498) supplies another. On 29 October this year,