The Van Gogh Alive Exhibition starts in the same matter as Vincent’s inspiration – with a look to the stars. A black and white illustration of ‘Starry Night’ accompanies a quote from the Dutch artist. “I don’t know anything with certainty, but seeing the stars makes me dream.”
With that, Van Gogh Alive – which opened Friday at The Hangar at Stanley Marketplace in Aurora – invites guests to be part of Van Gogh’s dreams. The digital gallery showcasing his masterpieces encompasses all the senses to create not just an exhibition but an experience.
The large-scale installation, an effort by Grande Experiences in Australia and Denver Center for the Performing Arts, is a multisensory art experience dedicated to Van Gogh’s work during his time in Arles, Saint Rémy and Auvers-sur-Oise, France. It was during this time when he created some of his most well-known masterpieces.
However, the exhibition does not give it all away upon entrance. In fact, the opening is seemingly subtle. The first room opens up with illustrations from some of his post-impressionist paintings. His iconic sunflowers adorn the walls accompanied by information or quotes from Van Gogh. There is also a life-size installation of Van Gogh’s room which he painted in ‘Bedroom in Arles’. It takes visitors some time to realize they can come in, take photos and feel like they are inside the painting.
All the while, classical music invites one to continue onwards to the piece de resistance just a few meters away. The immersive dark space comes to life with large-scale projections of Van Gogh’s paintings. Screens on the walls and floors create the illusion that one is now a part of the paintings – part of the dream.
As the visuals play, sounds, aromas and dazzling lights engage the senses. The images dance and move around to the tempo of classical music. With each pluck of a violin string, Van Gogh’s flower painting switch around. The scents of cardamom, nutmeg and sandalwood fill the air to transport visitors to the fields where Van Gogh painted.
The music, as well, plays a large part in creating an elevated experience. It seeks to create a mood that matches the moment in time Van Gogh painted a particular piece. When showing the work he completed in Arles, his most productive time, we hear music like Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1. When it showcases his work during his time in a mental asylum, we hear La Danse Macabre by Saint-Saëns. The screeching violins and explosive instrumentation create a sense of unease, that something is not right.
The inclusion of all the senses makes for a unique art exhibition separate from a traditional museum. The large-scale projections and the ample space allow visitors to enjoy the paintings from various angles. It gives accessibility, and even a type of privacy with its dark surroundings, that can’t be found when looking at the original painting. There is no rush to move aside for someone else. It doesn’t feel like your time will soon be up. You are immersed, surrounded by the moving art. It succeeds in making you feel like you are a part of it.
As a result, Van Gogh Alive feels more like a performance than a still exhibition. It succeeds in bringing to life Van Gogh’s already larger-than-life masterpieces that already seemed to have movement of their own.
Van Gogh Alive will be at The Hangar at Stanleymarketplace from July 9 to September 30. Visit the Denver Center for the Performing Arts‘s website for tickets and more information.
All photography by Marla Keown.