What colour is in a picture, enthusiasm is in life.
Vincent Van Gogh
If you think you have seen and know everything about Van Gogh, think again. The exhibition currently on at the Società Promotrice delle Belle Arti, in the heart of Parco del Valentino (Turin), offers an immersive experience into his works, and allows to see the Dutch artist in a different way.The travelling exhibition Van Gogh Alive makes his art come to life, as his paintings are projected onto walls, screens, columns, floors, complemented by text and accompanied by a musical background.
The exhibition divides the artist’s career into periods (Paris, Saint Rémy, Arles, and so on), to give a frame to the various paintings projected. Within each period we find several themes and genres, from landscapes to still lives, from portraits to everyday life scenes. The exhibition can be seen as both a chronologic retrospective of the artist and a celebration of the main threads of his artistic production.The first room contains the whole exhibition, and this should perhaps have been made more clear: the temptation is that to remain in the first room until the end of the loop of projected images, while the same loop can be found in the following rooms too. However, seeing the exhibition after having been exposed to the whole of the material gave me an unusual sense of freedom: if I didn’t want to spend huge amounts of time in one room, I felt perfectly justified to, while if I wanted to linger for a little while before the Starry Night, I was free to do so.
Moreover, what changes from one room to the other are the ways in which the images are projected. After the first room, where the visitors are literally surrounded by Van Gogh’s works, his paintings appear on slanting or rounded, big or small surfaces. The technology used is called SENSORY4™, and is described as ‘didactic and immersive’ an experience. Both adjectives are rightly chosen: the exhibition manages to present a large amount of Van Gogh’s work in a relatively short time, covering almost all of his artistic phases; on the other hand, being physically among his art proves an engaging experience, and feels nothing like learning.
Of course, projected images are not the originals. Not only is the quality of the images extremely diversified (faces appear more blurred, while views on landscapes more successfully resemble of the originals), but also the tactile quality of Van Gogh’s brush-strokes is entirely lost, and the original colours are altered by the screens. While expecting to find ‘the genuine’ Van Gogh in this exhibition is simply unrealistic, what the exhibition does succeed in doing is repurposing the artist, present him in a new, engaging light.
Accompanying the images are also excerpts from Van Gogh’s letters to his brother Théo, which reveal unexpected sides of the tormented artist. From his love for the colour yellow (‘How wonderful yellow is. It stands for the sun’), to his almost religious fascination for the stars, to his fondness for Japanese art, reading such aphoristic flashes is useful and rewarding, as it allows the visitors to take away something digestible from the variety of stimuli they are bombarded with. I had already remarked on my fondness for sentences or aphorisms displayed at art exhibitions (as in Painting the Modern Garden and Fattori): a few words over a painting can communicate more than walls of text.
Multi-sensory, experimental, and unexpected, Van Gogh Alive is truly ‘an experience’. Art is turned into spectacle and sensations, and Van Gogh is brought to life – in a way, one step removed from the original artist, but undeniably, one step closer to the visitor.