If you’ve been to an art gallery, you’ve probably seen those serious art lovers, their scrutinizing faces scrunched inches away from the canvas as if committing each brushstroke to memory.
ART REVIEWClick to Expand
Imagine Van Gogh
● RBC Convention Centre
● To Oct. 31
● Tickets $36.75 to $86.63 at winnipeg.imagine-vangogh.ca
You will not see that activity at the immersive exhibit Imagine Van Gogh, which is on view at the Winnipeg Convention Centre until Oct. 31. Some 200 of Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings are projected huge on Cinerama-sized walls in the 25,000-square-foot space of Hall D.
No scrutiny is required. Each tiny dab of paint looms bigger than the largest of extra large pizzas.
The effect is not necessarily for the art purist. Indeed, this is very much a cinematic experience: The images are meticulously edited to a soundtrack of music mostly culled from the Dutch post-impressionist painter’s time, everything from some of the more plaintive tunes of Erik Satie to Léo Delibes’s sublime Flower Duet from the opera Lakmé.
Visually, the exhibit uses many cinematic tools — the pan, the tilt, the close-up and the dissolve — to create a kind of narrative flow, reflecting Van Gogh’s life and work with an emphasis on his Arles period (1888/1889) right up to his death in 1890.
Some traditional gallery elements are in place. Prior to entry into the main hall, one can peruse some posted reading matter that explains the history of Van Gogh’s life, as well as explaining the concept behind "Image Totale," wherein the viewers’ experience is enhanced by these huge projections so that you’re not so much looking at a painting as much as walking into one.
When, for example, Van Gogh’s painting Café Terrace at Night appears before you in an approximation of the actual size of a cafe, it can’t help but lend an experiential intimation of his work.
The exhibit’s credo — "technology at the service of art" — may arouse some suspicions. Van Gogh’s work has tended to inspire some commercial work that weighs on the huckster side, including a biopic (Loving Vincent) animated in the style of the artist. Reportedly, you can rent a three-dimensional reproduction of his Bedroom in Arles as an Airbnb.
But after wandering the hall for about an hour (the amount of time it takes to cycle through the exhibit before it repeats), the claim feels legitimate. The show’s designer, Annabelle Mauger, likes to guide our attention to elements one doesn’t always appreciate in Van Gogh, such as a barrage of faces — young, old, tragic, humorous.
She also deftly arranges an appreciation of Van Gogh’s mastery of colour, the cosmic dark blue of Starry Night, the astonishing range of greens of his pastoral works, and the yellows — my God, how did he get those yellows so deep and lush?
It all leaves one susceptible to the emotional nature of the works. I wasn’t familiar with the painting First Steps, After Millet done the year Van Gogh died, depicting a father encouraging a child to walk towards him from his mother. It might seem a sentimental little slice of domestic life. But seen in the context of Van Gogh’s strangeness and solitude — his suicide came after years of depression and poverty — one can’t help but be especially moved.
But safely moved. The exhibit requires you reserve the hour you will attend, which controls the number of attendees at any given time. That means it is easy to physically distance from your fellow art lovers, and as a bonus, you don’t really have to touch anything the whole time you’re there, although the Starry Night face masks, available at the gift shop upon exiting, may prove to be a temptation. Apparently, the face masks are the store’s best sellers.
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.