‘Beyond Van Gogh’ to land at Del Mar Fairgrounds
Immersive experience seeks to enchant visitors with multimedia presentation based on artist’s works
During his 37-year lifetime, Vincent Van Gogh was virtually unknown as an artist, perpetually impoverished and, by most accounts, mentally unstable.
Today, he is among a handful of artists such as Picasso, Dali, Monet and Warhol who have become posthumous pop stars.
Reproductions of Van Gogh’s most revered paintings can be seen on mass-produced prints, posters, T-shirts and calendars. The life and art of this 19th-century Dutch artist is explored in books, movies and documentaries.
Yet, to experience a Van Gogh work in person requires going to a handful of museums around the world, including the J. Paul Getty in Los Angeles.
In such venues, a viewer may have a fleeting moment to glimpse a Van Gogh amid long lines. Such opportunities are even more limited amid the pandemic.
Enter “Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience,” scheduled to appear Jan. 14 through March 6 at the Del Mar Fairgrounds’ Wyland Center.
The show, which has been on tour in North America and soon will travel to the southern hemisphere, promises to be a spectacular three-dimensional journey through the artist’s world thanks to advanced audiovisual technology.
Information on the exhibit and tickets can be found at vangoghsandiego.com
“It’s very much an experience that was created with the pandemic in mind,” said Montreal-based art historian Fanny Curtat, a consultant on the project. “It allows people to be spread around and still have a cultural experience (while) maintaining health measures.”
Curtat said the producers of the project — also Canadian — approached the Normal Studio in Montreal and its creative director, Mathieu St-Arnaud, with the idea of putting together the show.
“It was up to the studio to find a new spin on this experience because there are already immersive experiences on Van Gogh,” Curtat said. “So it was all about finding something else to say about it, something to be really in tune with the subject itself.
“And that’s where I come in as an art historian. It was all about creating sort of a dialogue between the immersive structure — this device of enchantment — and the craving for beauty and the sort of need for purpose that you find in Van Gogh’s work.”
The show, which takes about an hour to go through, consists of three sections: an introductory hall with panels illuminating texts taken from Van Gogh’s own words; a portal called the “waterfall room” that conveys viewers to the final space; and the immersive room, in which Van Gogh’s images are projected onto large panels from ceiling to roof and choreographed to music.
“You are literally walking among the colors and the brush strokes,” Curtat said. “You are surrounded by large screens that go up to the ceiling. It’s really all around you. You’re walking through it. When you have kids in it, they are just running around, following the brush strokes, following the colors.
“It’s really allowing the audience to go beyond the frame, to set foot into the paintings themselves. So it’s sort of a fantasy of really being inside the world created by the artist and really to have a new angle on the vision of the world that he was putting forth.”
Works such as the iconic “Starry Nights” and “Sunflowers” are naturals for such luminescent treatments among the 300 Van Gogh works represented in the exhibition.
In his book, “History of Art,” H. W. Janson discusses the visual excitement of a celebrated Van Gogh piece.
“In ‘Wheat Field and Cypress Trees,’ both earth and sky show an overpowering turbulence — the wheat field resembles a stormy sea, the trees spring flame-like from the ground, the hills and clouds heave with the same undulant motion. The dynamism contained in every brush stroke makes of each one not merely a deposit of color, but an incisive graphic gesture.”
“Beyond Van Gogh,” Curtat believes, illustrates the uplifting nature of Van Gogh’s paintings, created as he struggled with crushing psychological episodes toward the end of his life while living mostly in southern France.
Most famously, in an extremely agitated state, Van Gogh severed at least part of his left ear with a razor, resulting in severe bleeding and hospitalization. He died July 27, 1890, apparently of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
“There’s so much more to Van Gogh than just the ear-cutting incident,” Curtat said. “That’s the whole point of this experience — to go beyond the darkness of the myths, beyond the struggling artist, mad-genius legend that he’s associated with, because all of this is true only to a certain extent. Most of the time, it sort of gets in the way of how you perceive his work.
“All of the darkness in his life — that’s really not what you see when you look at a Van Gogh painting. So this (Beyond Van Gogh) experience is really trying to put the focus on that — to put the focus on the light and the beauty and the colors that he put into his work, and the fact that painting and nature were healing to him.”
The message communicated in “Beyond Van Gogh” couldn’t come at a better time.
“There’s something very inspiring about somebody who’s been through these struggles in ways similar and sometimes wildly different from what we’re going through right now,” Curtat said. “But it’s so inspiring to see this ability to transcend the pain in your life and just see the beauty in the world around you, and he used that as a healing method.”
While obviously educational and entertaining, “Beyond Van Gogh” offers the additional benefit of encouraging visitors to develop an appreciation for art and Van Gogh that they might not have experienced before.
“It’s a great thing, I believe, for people who are a little bit intimidated by museums and might not feel that art is for them, or who might not understand how a 19th century artist can be relevant to a 21st century audience,” Curtat said.
“So, I’m hoping an experience like this sort of bridges this gap. By allowing an audience to create a connection with Van Gogh, maybe the next time they’re in a town where a Van Gogh is at a museum, maybe they’ll be curious about experiencing the aura and sheer magic of an original Van Gogh painting.”
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