Painting from the inside out: ‘Beyond Van Gogh’ | Art

Maybe it’s best that we all have our season, never to return to the flesh once we’ve left this world. But leaving a lasting legacy is another matter.

It is perhaps apocryphal that the Dutch Post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) received less recognition for his work than the myths about him suggest. Yet the attention and popularity his work and life receive today would probably have been too much for an artist who might have suffered from one of the many mood disorders (all diagnosed post-mortem and never definitively) that , at times, affected his behavior. Few of us, even those who are not particularly interested in the history of art, are unaware of the episode when Van Gogh, in a fit of madness, cut off his ear.

Armchair art historians can debate how mental illness affected the style of his work, but the art itself was a gateway to healing and a reflection of the beauty of the world. he was trying to convey.

“There is something unique, timeless in his work,” says Fanny Curtat, art historian and doctoral student at the University of Quebec in Montreal. “There is something iconic about Van Gogh.”

Curtat is a consultant on the traveling exhibition Beyond Van Gogh: the immersive experience, which opens at the Albuquerque Immersive Pavilion on Wednesday, March 2. The fully immersive multimedia experience invites visitors to step inside Van Gogh’s paintings as more than 300 of his works move and swirl across walls and floors in a series of animated projections. Visitors will be immersed in some of the artist’s most famous works, such as The starry Night (1889) and Cafe terrace at night (1888), as well as several of his self-portraits and other works.

But the exhibition was more than an opportunity to reinvent Van Gogh’s art using 21st century digital technology. It was a chance to introduce the world to the beauty, color and light that infused his works and to dispel some of the myths about the man. The pandemic provided the perfect opportunity.

“It was really about showing why Van Gogh is still so popular, why he’s still so relevant, and creating a resonance between 21st century audiences and this 19th century artist,” says Curtat, who has been involved in the project from its inception. creation. “It all started in October 2020, so it was really in the middle of the pandemic. This kind of immersive experience was built with the pandemic in mind. This would allow people to experience something cultural and have enough space to be safe.

The exhibition is designed to adapt to the health guidelines of the different places where it travels. But audiences might also find an analogy between some of Van Gogh’s own experiences and those wrought by the pandemic in our time.

“During the pandemic, we were going back and forth between lockdowns and all these situations,” says Curtat. “To have someone who was so well known for the hardships of his life and who was able to transcend it all into works of art – he painted Starry Night while being locked up in an asylum.

Beyond Van Gogh was created by Mathieu St-Arnaud, creative director of Normal Studio in Montreal, and his team. They approached Curtat as someone who could advise on what story to tell, what artwork to include.

“It was a very easy choice for these types of experiments because his art is very much about light and movement,” she says. “So it doesn’t take too much to breathe new life into it. But it’s how you do it and why you do it.

The “how” manifests itself in the third section of the exhibition, the immersive room. The “why” is covered in the introductory room, which includes text with excerpts from the famous letters between Van Gogh and his brother Theo. From the introductory room, visitors pass into a stunt room that prepares them for the main attraction.

“It’s by bringing all this together that I intervened, with the artistic director, Mathieu St-Arnaud, and a team of animators”, explains Curtat.

Another aspect of an immersive exhibition of this type, which reflects the impact of the pandemic on the exhibition landscape on a larger scale, is that there was no need to pack, ship and d ensure priceless works of art. Technically, there are no paintings in this exhibition, only their illusion by projection.

“In a way, we’re at a disadvantage because we don’t have the magic items themselves, which is inimitable,” Curtat says. “These experiences can never be considered a replacement for the originals. But we have the freedom to choose what we want from over 800 paintings and 2,000 pieces if you add the sketches, watercolors and all.

The team was also keen to strike a balance between popular works, such as Van Gogh Sunflowers, of which he produced two series between 1887 and 1888, and works that reflect his development as an artist. The idea, says Curtat, was to go beyond the idea of ​​Van Gogh as the embodiment of the troubled and struggling artist, which often supersedes appreciation of the work itself, and to highlight the power of art.

“At first his work was much darker, and he has a very different style that you wouldn’t recognize as easily as Van Gogh,” she says. “He goes from that and then he comes to Paris and it gets a lot brighter. Then he comes to the south of France and you have this burst of color, these very vivid brushstrokes, colors side by side, unmixed Through this evolution, there are a lot of pieces that people don’t know about.”

There’s another tech-centric Van Gogh experiment sweeping the country, digital artist Massimiliano Siccardi Immersive Van Gogh, which suggests that the Dutch painter is now more popular than ever. This was not the case for much of his artistic career, a fact which, however, could apply not only to Van Gogh, but also to his Impressionist and Post-Impressionist contemporaries. Artists like the French painter Édouard Manet (1832-1883) rebelled against the establishment, challenging the academic styles favored by the Paris Salon. Van Gogh, immersed in this period and very aware of the artistic trends of his time – he was the friend of the post-impressionist Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) and met many avant-garde artists in Paris – knew the critics in his life, but also received praise.

“You had this art critic, Gabriel Aurier in Paris, who wrote this article on Van Gogh, likening him to an alchemist of color, a genius of light,” Curtat says. “You have the letters from Theo and Van Gogh, this exchange between the brothers where you have Vincent saying ‘I have to fix this. He can’t talk about me. How can he talk about me?’ He wasn’t really managing his success well. Bringing him back now, I’m sure, would be quite overwhelming for him. But then again, the fact that his work still speaks volumes today and is still so widely known and available to everyone, I hope, would please him, because it kind of achieved an element of his work and his purpose.

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