Over the past 140 years, Van Gogh’s paintings have transcended their material existences as paintings and have become global cultural phenomena. Van Gogh Alive is a recognition of the painter’s impact that reaches far beyond the simple act of a viewer staring at a canvas on a gallery wall. This exhibition recreates the true experience of looking at a Van Gogh painting – one that is kinetic and emotive.
The exhibition begins with the ‘Interpretive Area’, which is set up in the typical style of an art gallery, with copies of Van Gogh’s paintings hung on the walls alongside contextual information about each work. Following this is the Sensory4™ Gallery, which is where the real magic happens. Attendees see Van Gogh’s artworks projected onto huge screens and set to classical music, which has been expertly curated to aurally reflect the mood of each of Gogh’s different art periods. Some paintings have also been animated, adding to their dynamism, and it was particularly nice to see some of Gogh’s lesser known paintings and sketches get their moment in the spotlight. It would have been easy for the curators just to focus on his most famous paintings like the ‘Sunflowers’ and the ‘Cafe Terrace at Night’, but they have ensured that visitors gained a comprehensive understanding across Gogh’s oeuvre, which contains over 2000 artworks. Projected alongside these are selected quotes from Gogh’s letters, displaying his lesser known skill as a writer as well as an artist.
The only letdowns of the Sensory4™ Gallery are the limited time frame allowed for visitors to stay in the space (curse you Covid) and the deafening music (there is a joke to be made here about wanting to cut your ear off). The exhibition’s website also mentions fragrance, of which I smelled none. So, elements of the immersion are either under or overwhelming, but the paintings negate these letdowns.
When you exit the Gallery you are led to a life-size representation of Van Gogh’s bedroom, an impressive 3D construction of his famous bedroom painting. Then comes the immersive Sunflower Room. This area is intended to lean into excellent social media content (by which I mean cool selfies) that can come from attending the exhibition, as visitors enter a mirrored room filled with hundreds of fake sunflowers. It is a nice concept, but the cramped space doesn’t allow for selfies without strangers photobombing you in the background.
Finally, attendees come to the Art Activity Area, where there are easels and blank canvases for people to follow a video tutorial on how to draw Van Gogh’s famous ‘Starry Night’ image. This is a nice element to round-off the exhibition, as visitors can gain firsthand insight into just how skilled Van Gogh was at his craft.
Van Gogh Alive is an accessible art exhibition that will dazzle everyone with its innovative and thoughtful curatorial approach.
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