New Technologies and Approaches Lead to New Perspectives
The van Gogh Effect
Many of you are probably aware that something of a phenomenon launched last year with some high-tech based shows around Vincent van Gogh and his work. One such exhibit opened, finding much commercial success and attention. As such things go, several more variations opened all around the country. There must be at least a half-dozen of them now, with spin offs coming along built around other artists.
We were curious enough to sign up for one a few months ago in a city not too far away from us, but the timing was almost perfectly matched with the rise of the latest COVID variant. Both of us really wanted to go but when the morning of travel arrived, we recognized that given the new outbreak dynamics, this would be a foolish risk. Trip cancelled. So much for that great anniversary trip.
Happily, one of those van Gogh road shows has come to our little metropolis and so off we went to experience it this week. This was likely a bit smaller and more modest than, say the one that debuted in New York last year, but off we went any way. Note I said, “experience it,” not “see it.” More on that distinction shortly. We were curious about what we had heard, but also mindful of criticisms we had heard. Allow me to share both views, then I will share with you what we found ourselves.
The striking advantage of this type of exhibition is its immersive quality. I love going to traditional art galleries and museums, but they are pretty much linear, one thing at a time, right in front of you experiences.
This exhibition puts you in vast indoor spaces surrouned by screens and images all around you, overhead, under your feet. You are bathed in rich sound, including a wide range of music the producers chose to go with the texts that are projected and the art work or other images.
It is quite an experience. At times, we felt we were in the paintings, not just looking at them. More impressive to me was the time and resources devoted to introducing us to Van Gogh himself. We saw and heard much from him and about him as an artist, as a human being, as a brother and a friend, as an uncle, as a mentally ill and tortured soul.
More than any other Van Gogh exhibition I have ever seen, I came to feel that I really got to know him in important ways. I came away far more understanding of his choices as an artist and his life as a person dealing with everyday life. It would be difficult look at his work in quite the same way again. Certainly, I will never look at a starry night again or a field of sunflowers without reflecting on how he saw such things.
As these exhibitions were catching on, I read some criticisms and saw a few critical interviews about this sort of presentation. The criticisms I saw were all from professional art critics. I think they have some good points.
Chief among their observations was that one never actually sees a Van Gogh painting at these shows. What they offer is a series of reproductions and in some cases, Van Gogh’s work put to other purposes, such as mass entertainment, not art appreciation.
This criticism raises a valid point. There is no replacement from standing a few inches away from a Van Gogh painting, being essentially alone with it, studying up close and in three dimensions the brush strokes, choices of color, use of light and shadow, and all the other elements that go into great paintings.
So – What Did I Think?
Having visited countless museums around the world and now having experienced one of these shows, I enthusiastically endorse both ways of seeing art writ large. It would be a sad thing to miss either opportunity. They both offer valuable, if different, experiences.
The critics missed the point on two counts. One, the new approach is not a replacement for traditional experiencing art. It is a supplement, another set of tools to grasp what art is and can be. Two, I would bet that a significant number of people who came for the sound and light show have not been to visit a Van Gogh in a museum before.
Coming to this event was not at the sacrifice of a traditional museum visit. In fact, I expect that at least some come out of this new experience inclined to now visit the real thing in a museum. Seems like a win-win to me. And those of us who are steeped in the museum experience have the delight of seeing old friends in new ways. Again, a win-win.
What Could be Next?
Well, our local venue has two more of these coming up this year -one on Monet and one on DaVinci. We intend to experience them both, based on this initial outing. Count us as not either-or, but as both, please.
In the very near future, one could imagine the technology taking this path even further. Think about doing something like this with Artificial Reality googles, maybe even with a sensory suit to experience heat, wind, etc. How about a sit-down session with a virtual reality or android version of the artist, one capable of having a conversation with you? Sounds like a trip to the holodeck on the USS Enterprise in a Star Trek episode.
Can’t wait to try it all.
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