Living Art: Van Gogh Alive creates unique gallery experience


Photo from Pixabay

One of Van Gogh’s iconic paintings, “Landscape from Saint-Remy” was featured in the Van Gogh Alive exhibit.

Kate Moores, Staff Writer

With paintings and plaques covering every wall of a large lobby, the Van Gogh Alive exhibit comes across as tame at first glance. It merely gives off the impression of yet another gallery: educational and uninspired, unlike the art being discussed. This may just be intentional, however. Slowly yet surely, every person in attendance is immersed into the world of Van Gogh through every sense. 

Hazelnut and woody scents waft through the gallery after a few moments as the lighting dims. Music rises and falls as viewers mill around the space, and simple copies of Van Gogh’s work suddenly seem more important. The space serves as an introduction to who Vincent Van Gogh was, discussing his mental illness, how art became his passion and his tragic final moments.  After a life-size picture space of “Room at Arles,” a small doorway leads into the mind of Van Gogh. 

Iconic pieces of history connect to the modern age in a completely digital experience. Huge screens surround guests as they sit on benches, lean against walls and stroll around the fixtures. Once the show begins, everyone is struck still. Van Gogh’s biography is connected to his artwork through an entirely new portrayal of the pieces. Self-portraits blink and scan the space until they transition smoothly into his early works of rolling farmland. The information gathered earlier gives the whole show much-needed context; we all knew why Van Gogh was in the country and why he was painting that way. Quotes fill certain screens as the backgrounds sway in Van Gogh’s pieces. You almost forget that you are just watching the paintings on a screen. Quicker than ever expected, Van Gogh Alive becomes an emotional journey as well. 

After 45 minutes of experiencing Van Gogh’s life through swelling music and transformed artwork, the exhibit ends with a bang- quite literally. I almost teared up as the gunshot rang through the now-dark room. Van Gogh’s struggles with failure and mental illness were not ancient history anymore. Every emotion he may have felt while creating masterpieces was just projected onto huge screens for an audience, and anyone can sympathize after being completely immersed in his world. The cost of art is displayed in a completely fresh way.

The final phase of the exhibit addresses the sense of touch. The “selfie-space” featured thousands of sunflowers and mirrored walls, giving off the illusion of being lost in a sunflower field. The room was warm and the lights had a yellow tint, making me feel lost in the haze of Van Gogh’s joy at the color yellow. After a couple of pictures, I still didn’t want to leave Van Gogh’s world of pain, joy, perseverance and broad brush strokes. The picture-show displayed Van Gogh’s life in a personal way, which I didn’t think possible through only digital images. One of the world’s greatest artists I now felt I knew personally. 

Van Gogh Alive addressed every sense in the production in order to completely envelop any attendee in who Van Gogh was. From the scent of Van Gogh’s many homes filling the space to transformative images surrounding every guest, his mind and experience were brought into the modern age so we could learn from his story. I have never experienced art this way, and I doubt that I ever will again.