Each week, Artful spotlights an art experience or destination that speaks to us right now. Today that means something that can be viewed onscreen or in print; as museums and galleries reopen, we will be highlighting events and exhibitions to see in person.
The Dutch photographer Rineke Dijkstra is one of the most sensitive portraitists of our time, particularly in her tender images of young adults that embrace all their adolescent awkwardness. She also makes video installations that function as durational group portraits, capturing small assemblies of museum visitors as they look at and respond to famous paintings. When the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam celebrated its 350th anniversary last year, it commissioned one of these installations in response to a jewel of its collection: Rembrandt's The Night Watch (1642). In Dijkstra's three-channel piece Night Watching (2019) we never see the actual painting, which shows the elaborately uniformed members of a militia company on the march. Instead we see the revealing and sometimes self-referential reactions of viewers in different occupations and stages of life: young women speculate on grooming and hygiene in the Dutch golden age; besuited accountants debate the socioeconomic status of the painting's subjects.
The online version of Dijsktra's current exhibition, at Marian Goodman in London, samples Night Watching in a digital walkthrough narrated by the artist and, in another clever use of technology, includes time-lapse photography of her still portraits of twin sisters taken over several years. (Notably, the Rijksmuseum, which reopens June 1, has just launched a super-high-resolution digital image of The Night Watch, an educational initiative that is also part of a multi-year conservation effort.)
At this moment when we are unable to gather shoulder-to-shoulder in front of artworks and trade observations in an intimate "museum whisper," Dijkstra's empathetic portraits and her installation about the social experience of viewing art remind us exactly what we are missing.