If Vincent Van Gogh were alive today, perhaps that is how he would like his works to be exhibited: moving, fluid, floating, overwhelming.
Art comes to life in “Beyond Van Gogh,” an immersive multimedia experience that draws masses of masked art lovers to the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.
Shards of black paint flap their wings and fly across swaying skies; brushstrokes add color and texture to choppy landscapes and shimmering waves; rooftops crumble as we rise into a starry night so deep blue it’s accompanied by a lazy jazz trumpet.
Vincent Van Gogh’s larger-than-life self-portraits can’t help but wink as we watch.
“It’s perfect for an immersive experience like this, with a body of work focused on light, movement and color,” said art historian Fanny Curtat, a member of the creative team. Beyond Van Gogh ”at the Normal Studio in Montreal. “His work already seems to be leaping towards you. The colors are so vivid; the textures are so intense.
“Beyond Van Gogh” runs through February 12 at the Oregon Convention Center. A tour lasts around an hour, during which hundreds of Van Gogh’s works of art appear, overlap and fade away again as they are projected onto the walls of a room the size of a hangar.
When visiting The Columbian on a Thursday morning, this huge venue was well attended but not crowded, with plenty of room to move around. Visit the exhibition website to learn more about COVID-19 security protocols, which include proof of vaccination and mask requirements, as well as timed entry.
On the way to being engulfed by the main attraction, visitors wander past panels that recount a quick version of Van Gogh’s biography and quote the revealing letters he wrote to his main supporter, his merchant brother from art. The account points out that, even as the desire and enthusiasm of Van Gogh (1853-1890) grew increasingly out of balance, his art reached extraordinary heights of originality and power. Many of the masterpieces we know best today – like “Sunflowers” and “The Starry Night” – were painted after the ailing artist cut off an ear and locked himself in a lunatic asylum.
Tragically, Van Gogh took his own life just as his paintings were starting to gain respect, Curtat said. He could have disappeared without leaving a trace of the art world, she said, without her sister-in-law, Johanna Van Gogh-Bonger, who has devoted years of her life to preserving and showing her paintings. Eventually, she donated her collection to what became the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
While Van Gogh’s reputation as the rock star of all tormented geniuses now seems established, Curtat said, the works themselves say something different about Van Gogh’s mind.
“You don’t see the darkness in the paintings,” she said. “You see the joy and the color and even the healing. He is known for his inner struggles, but his art transcends that. All is light and beauty.
Because Van Gogh has found beauty worth painting even in the quietest, haphazard corners of his own bedroom, Curtat believes he is the artist whose world is in the throes of a pandemic and locked up needs right now.
“There is something so inspiring about his finding beauty in onions on the kitchen table or a pair of boots on the floor,” she said. “He craved beauty and while he wasn’t good at being around other people, he wanted to help them see the beauty he saw. He wanted to bring them joy.