“Van Gogh Alive The Experience”
Venue – Media City, Salford
Like most people I had been aware of Vincent van Gogh from secondary school onwards. Only after a visit to the National Gallery in London did I come to appreciate his art. On that day in a room full of stunning paintings by Monet, Cezanne, Renoir, Degas and Manet there was one painting that, for me, stole the show. That painting was on of Van Gogh’s series of paintings of sunflowers. I’d seen them in books and projected on screens and they hadn’t really impacted me. But on that day in 2003 this painting glowed almost as if it had been backlit, and I stood and looked closely at it before sitting on the bench to soak it in for a while. From that day I understood why Don MacLean had sung about Vincent and I wanted to know more.
Over the next couple of years I was fortunate to visit the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, twice, where I learned a great deal more about the man, his art, his writing and of course his mental health. If he were a musician or a sportsman then you’d call me a fan. With that in mind when we saw the event in Media City advertised we were really keen to go along.
Salford is the latest of 75 cities world-wide to show this Van Gogh Alive multisensory experience that includes projected pictures, quotes and information and lots of moving images and video, all supported by a soundtrack of classical music.
With such a track record we hoped to be impressed. Before entering the main multimedia, exhibit there is a chance to see, and have a photo taken, in a replica of the Bedroom at Arles, made famous by his series of three paintings, where Van Gogh stayed 14 months, including two months when Paul Gaugin stayed and worked alongside him.
Stepping into the large exhibition space the first impression is of being surrounded by the colour palette and brush strokes of Vincent Van Gogh. Seeing the works magnified on the large screens gives a strong feel for his bold brushwork and revolutionary use of colour.
The experience charts his career as a painter which lasted just 9 years until his tragic death, aged 37 in 1890 at Auvers-Sur-Oise. Van Gogh was incredibly prolific, producing over 900 paintings, as well as almost 1300 drawings and sketches on paper. The experience showed a wide range of his work from the very famous self-portraits, his Japanese inspired works, and his works from Belgium, The Netherlands and France.
With projections on the multiple screens, and even on the floor, often simultaneously showing different images, videos and quotations at the same time it pays to move around to view the experience from different positions. A very clever touch is the projection of paintings with some elements animated, e.g. crows flying over the cornfields or petals falling from the blossoming almond tree. A smaller room is filled with artificial sunflowers and with mirrors all around, including the ceiling, creating a powerful impression of being surrounded by the flowers that Van Gogh famously painted.
When leaving the exhibit visitors are invited to have a go at drawing versions Starry Night (in 5 minutes) and Bedroom in Arles (in ten minutes) guided by video demonstrations. Standing drawing in front of lots of people isn’t for everyone but I had one of my favourite fountain pens with me so joined in, drawing so fast is a challenge but it was also fun and there was
Whether you have little or a lot of knowledge of the life and work of Vincent Van Gogh, perhaps one of the most influential modern artists, this experience is at once informative, entertaining, educational and powerfully moving.
Looking at art is good for the human spirit and as Vincent himself wrote “I have nature and art and poetry, and if that is not enough, what is enough?”
Further information can be found online at https://vangoghaliveuk.com