by Jerry ElengicalJun 04, 2021
The image of yellow sunflowers kept in a vase, for anyone faintly familiar with art history, would inadvertently seek Van Gogh’s still-life painting titled ‘Sunflowers’ as a point of reference. Such is the power of the Dutch post-impressionist painter who remained unknown and poverty-stricken until his death. But as history has shown us, today Van Gogh is inevitable to any discussion on art, like his contemporaries including Anton Mauve, Claude Monet, Paul Gauguin, Rembrandt, to name a few.
Offering an immersive experience for viewers, the exhibition ‘Imagine Van Gogh’ at Arsenal Contemporary Art, Montreal, is presented by Paul Dupont-Hébert and Tandem. The exhibition is an opportunity to admire the works of the artist, such as The Starry Night, Irises Sunflowers, Bedroom in Arles against the compositions by Saint-Saëns, Mozart, Bach, Delibes and Satie. The richness of his palette is made visible with strong brushstrokes that express Van Gogh’s artistic dexterity with light and shadow. The coming together of visual and music accentuate the immersive experience for the viewers, who take a walk through the lyrical and sensitive world of Van Gogh.
Van Gogh’s art practice between the periods 1888 to 1890 become the exhibition’s chief focus since these years made him see nature, portraits and still life with a new perspective. It was in 1888 that he rented the famous ‘Yellow House’ in southern France Arles after moving out of his younger brother, Theo Van Gogh's home in Paris. The sun and nature of the Provence opened the door to aesthetic style of modernism and abstraction of the avant-garde. Interestingly, yellow and blue, synonymous with Van Gogh’s artworks, became pre-dominant in the paintings after his stay at Arles.
After the success of Imagine Picasso, produced in 2019 at La Sucrière in Lyon, the producers Annabell Mauger and Julien Baron collaborated to come up with the current exhibition. Explaining why they chose Van Gogh, Mauger, in the section ‘Questions for the Creators’ available on the website of the exhibition, says, “Van Gogh is an expressionist painter. He’s not looking to show the world as it is, but rather to express it. This framework is used throughout many themes in his paintings, where he’s not afraid to go to the point of distorting certain features. We wanted to highlight the details of his canvases, such as The Starry Night, which was magnified by a precise division of the painting, accentuating its movements and the isolation of its stars. We also wished to highlight perspective by isolating, for example, each element in his Bedroom in Arles. The result becomes an enchanting fiction that explodes across the projection surface.”
It goes unsaid that the immersive exhibition like this with incessant video projections demands a strong technical support system. Giving an insight into the same, Baron informs us, “Imagine Van Gogh uses advanced techniques of multi-projection and immersive audio, enabling the viewer to dive deep into the heart of Van Gogh’s works. More than 30 HD video projectors illuminate 20 screens, revealing the architecture distributed in the immersive space. In this way, spectators can wander in the middle of the images and discover new readings of the painter’s creations, thanks to the originality of their presentation. Music from great composers, such as Saint-Saëns, Mozart, Bach and Satie, reinforces the immersive experience and amplifies the emotional impact of the visuals tenfold.”
The full-scale display of Van Gogh's magnum opus, The Starry Night, allows one to rightly experience what Baron states. Unlike the current-day awareness on mental health, the nineteenth-century lacked clinical understanding and institutional support around the psychiatric disturbances. Van Gogh stands tall as an example of the artist who gave his specially-abled-mind an artistic blend. Illustrating the same point is this masterpiece, made in an asylum of Saint-Rémy, France. Painted a year before his death with oil, the techniques — impasto and line structure — compounded by the themes — memory and observation — of The Starry Night represent life and death. A sleeping village under the swirling midnight blue sky and flames in the shape of long cypress of the painting visually express what Van Gogh once wrote in a letter to his younger brother Theo Van Gogh: “I have nature and art and poetry. If that is not enough what is?”.
Imagine Van Gogh is on view at the Arsenal Contemporary Art Montreal till March 1, 2020.