Admittedly, I have had some difficulty figuring out how I would feel about the Van Gogh Alive experience, swinging greatly between loving it and being unsure about it, trying to imagine what Vincent Van Gogh himself would think and wondering if having one’s works being shown in such a commercial way, in a manner he could never have imagined, would feel like a success or failure, as a deeply thinking, introspective artist.
The experience itself was supposedly inspired by one man’s visit to the Louvre and his child’s reaction; saying the gallery was boring, and some music would help. This led to a rethink by the makers of this experience about how we appreciate art, and so Van Gogh Alive was born; attempting to be a way to show these masterpieces to those who may not appreciate the finer details of an art gallery, to welcome those who find galleries and all that comes with the world of art as stuffy or pretentious, or at the very least, slightly uncomfortable.
In this ‘gallery’, one enters a large darkened space and is surrounded by giant projections of Van Gogh’s work, quotes from some of the hundreds of letters he wrote and sent during his life (often under-appreciated, in my humble opinion) and presented with a soundtrack of beautiful pieces of classical music to match the works. It’s an impressive feeling, being completely and totally surrounded by art, faced with images of brushstrokes bigger than yourself, details magnified to a size that Van Gogh would have never made himself and if one is willing, it’s easy to thoroughly immerse yourself, to begin to live Van Gogh’s life through his work, letting the music create goosebumps and allowing the paint, the colours, shadows and shapes to let your mind wander to another time and place, and then right back home again.
So there is the thing about this exhibition. It’s not about how the art is presented that makes this experience what it is; it is the art itself. Without Van Gogh’s view on the world and his ability to express that through pen and paint, this would not be the same experience. Whether one encounters Van Gogh’s work on a postcard, in a book, on the wall in a very quiet gallery or projected into a giant screen in a darkened room with a soundtrack at full volume doesn’t really matter; the point is that the viewer is moved, in any way, negative or positive, by pieces of art. If one walks away from Van Gogh Alive questioning the experience, then the art itself has done its work. If one walks away simply having had an experience, good or bad, then the art served its purpose. If one walks away with a little more curiosity as to who Van Gogh is, then that ultimately makes the art a success, regardless of how it is presented. I would hope that one of Van Gogh’s quotes gives us an indication as to how he would feel about his work being presented in such a new way;
“I can’t change the fact that my paintings don’t sell. But the time will come when people will recognise that they are worth more than the value of the paints used in the picture”.
I hope that Mr Van Gogh would be pleasantly surprised, and impressed by his work being used in such a way, in any way, to move and inspire. I certainly was.