Imagine walking into a darkened room where the delicate notes of Handel and Schubert play in the background. Enormous screens adorn every wall from floor to ceiling as well as large pillars scattered throughout a wide, open space. On the floor several platforms rise up, all covered in white canvas screens. There is no light, but for a few small bulbs shining from projectors on the ceiling. The darkness is eerie and disorienting, but anticipation builds for a moment of magic. The music rises and then it happens . . . . brilliant colors and the brushstrokes of a master artist wrap the room in a vibrant embrace. To see a Van Gogh painting in person is a moving experience, but to see his paintings move across multiple screens and swirl around me is something else entirely.
A traveling exhibit known as Van Gogh Alive, tells the story of Vincent Van Gogh’s life through the chronicle of his paintings. His time in Paris, those wild sunflowers, the infamous fight with Gaughin, the only painting he ever sold, the pain of mental illness, his love of life and nature . . . it’s all there in Vincent’s own hand.
As his paintings scroll across the screens, quotes in his writing rotate on two different walls. Despite his inner turmoil, Van Gogh’s soul was one of love, wonder, and hope. One quote in particular stood out to me as it truly sums up the character of Van Gogh:
I would rather die of passion than of boredom.
Put me on that list as well.
The immense scale of the exhibit gives viewers a chance to walk through Van Gogh’s work and appreciate every speck of paint and every erratic stroke. Everything from sketches, finished paintings, and even handwritten letters and journal entries fill the screens. While they may not be the real thing, the projections have an equally strong emotional impact. I’ll be the first to admit, I was deeply effected when swallowed whole by Starry Night. My favorite painting surrounded me on all sides, lit up, and full of Van Gogh’s passion. I was standing right in the middle of that star speckled navy blue sky and for a moment, I had to fight the tears.
Van Gogh lives on in a way he never could have imagined and I like to think he’d approve. While an unorthodox art exhibit, Van Gogh Alive is a truly remarkable experience.
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Here’s a peek at the exhibit via the Arizona Science Center:
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For more information on Van Gogh Alive, click here for the official website.
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