There are numerous methods of immersing yourself in the work of an artist, the best, of course, by standing in the presence of the actual paintings, as the light touches them in different ways, revealing the depth, breadth and sensitivity of the brushstrokes and the intensity of the colors.
When that’s not possible – as in the case of the brilliant post-impressionist Vincent Van Gogh, whose works are among the most prized (and valuable) in the world – an immersive “experience” is probably the next best, and certainly the most visceral, thing.
Wednesday morning, members of the bay area media got an advance look at “Van Gogh Alive,” a multi-media interpretation that will open Saturday at the Dali Museum.
Created by an Australian design company called Grande Experiences, “Van Gogh Alive” is a textbook argument for Dali executive director Hank Hine’s oft-stated theory, that using modern technology is going to help 21st century museum visitors experience (and appreciate) art in a new way.
With ultra high resolution laser projectors beaming images of Van Gogh’s work onto a series of canvases, both large and gigantic, “Van Gogh Alive” is immersive. It all takes place in a single, spacious room, which is darkened so that the eye is drawn only to the images. There are no seats; it’s standing-room-only, although walking around the space is encouraged.
The life story of the famously tortured Dutch painter (1853-1890) is mapped out by brief text panels, prefacing each turn of location and its emotional effect on the artist and his work. There are sections focusing on his early works, his move to Paris and the excitement and optimism of city life, the relocation to picturesque Arles, in the South of France. The story ends after Van Gogh commits himself to an insane asylum, and following his discharge, commits suicide at the age of 37.
“Van Gogh Alive” is by no means static. The photographed canvases are almost constantly in motion, allowing for examination of every crease and stroke. From Van Gogh’s landscapes and still lifes to his portraits, self-portraits and stunning impressionistic masterworks like “Starry Night,” they also hold and linger at full frame – the eyes, particularly in the self-portraits, seem to stare at the viewer in something like desperation.
Similarly, there is tasteful use of animation, as raindrops fall over a Paris street, black birds fly above a brightly-colored field at Arles, a steam engine train moves across a brown countryside or a vase of flowers suddenly comes alive.
It is highly respectful, and tasteful, although the accompanying classical music score grows somewhat tiresome three-quarters of the way through the 40-minute presentation.
Although they came from different eras, Hine explained before the tour began, there were several important similarities between Van Gogh and the museum’s namesake, Salvador Dali.
Both were “replacement babies,” meaning each had an older brother who’d died during childbirth.
“This kind of fact sets an artist, or any individual, on a lifelong quest for establishing who they are,” Hine said. “Probing their own identity, and looking to the outside world for any signs of it.”
Both artists, he added, had a “sense that this world was unstable and ever-changing. And they thought the physical world could be pried back by the way you revealed it in art. And revealed the inner truth of what the world was like.”
Admission to “Van Gogh Alive” is included in regular museum admission, although advanced timed tickets are required, to ensure safe distancing protocols. Dali hours have been extended.
The opening week of “Van Gogh Alive” is sold out in advance. Click here for news, updates and tickets.