On May 20 of 2010, Pablo Picasso’s painting, Le Pigeon aux Petits Pois (The Pigeon with the Peas)—along with a handful of other paintings—was stolen from the Paris Museum of Modern art. The work of art, now destroyed, no longer exists. For visual art and even literature, there is usually a “real” master copy that came directly from the artist. An inch by inch replication of a work of art can only be a copy, even if it is indistinguishable from the original. The original is sacred; anything like it is a cheap imitation that can never substitute the real thing. At least this is the thinking behind traditional understandings of artistic production.
A part of art has always been the experience of witnessing a piece for the first, brief time. Making a pilgrimage to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa or the final stop on a band’s reunion tour is a part of the almost religious experience of art. The location, the crowds of people, the journey to see the piece are a part of the artistic ritual, and for Picasso’s Pigeeon, it’s an experience that can never be had again. With the painting destroyed, the ritual can never be carried out again.