Words by Don Descoteau
During his short lifetime, Vincent van Gogh did not achieve commercial success. Long after his death by suicide in 1890, with many artists drawing on his unique post-Impressionist style and his works known worldwide, he remains cast as a tortured and misunderstood artist, noted as much for his struggles with mental health as the quality and artistic impact of his work.
But this narrow perception of the artist lacks context and balance, says Montreal-based art historian Fanny Curtat, founding consultant for Beyond van Gogh: The Immersive Experience, the acclaimed multimedia exhibit that begins a 2.5-month stay in Victoria on October 14.
“He is widely famous, but people seem to remember him for Starry Night and the ear-cutting incident,” she says. “There’s something a little bit unfair about your whole life and your work being summarized and reduced to what he (himself) also recognized as the lowest point in his life, a moment filled with fear, with angst …”
Helping visitors explore the complete van Gogh—his early life, his passions, relationships, belief in the healing properties of nature and the way he communicated through his art—is a major focus for the exhibit, which runs through December 31 at the Starry Night Pavilion at Bayview Place (355 Catherine Street).
After learning biographical details of van Gogh and reading explanations of his major works in the introduction hall, one enters the waterfall room, where Canadian-designed technology projects dots and splashes of colour on the walls that intermittently form into a self-portrait of the artist.
His presence invites visitors into the large space, which demonstrates in a big way that this is no typical museum gallery. Huge renditions of roughly 300 van Gogh works, including Starry Night, Sunflowers and Café Terrace at Night and many others, are projected and animated onto the walls and floor. The paintings ebb and flow into each other, engulfing guests in a 3-D experience that provides an up-close look at van Gogh’s technical genius, from brushstrokes to colour palettes.
Along the way, carefully curated music provides a soundtrack to help create what for many viewers has been, quite literally, a moving experience.
“There’s something about this technology that’s just pure enchantment,” Curtat said, noting the animations prompt children and adults alike to dance in the space.
While this presentation doesn’t aim to replace the traditional gallery visit and the emotions one feels viewing an original, it allows people to see van Gogh’s works in an entertaining new way.
“It’s about bridging these different experiences and one complementing the other. There is something really phenomenal and unique about being able to just be inside the painting.”
Beyond van Gogh aims to educate visitors about the man, whose self-discovery journey included time as a preacher and an art dealer before he plunged into creating art in the final 10 years of his 37-year life. The exhibit also aims to help viewers see the evolution of his art, from his more monochromatic early works to the brightly colourful pieces that have ultimately become his signature.
Visitors are asked to allow about an hour for the full presentation. More information and ticket options are available at vangoghvictoria.com. No tickets are available at the door.