Whether you’re an art lover or not, a devotee of Van Gogh’s work or not, Van Gogh Alive stimulates your imagination and senses like no stroll through a regular art gallery can.
You see, Van Gogh Alive is aesthetic entertainment for the masses. Even the most committed philistine tagging along to Moore Park’s Royal Hall of Industries in Sydney just for a little COVID-19 relief will struggle to remain ‘blah’ after this 45-minute sensory journey into the life, art and complexities of Vincent Van Gogh, an iconic post-impressionist painter considered a failure throughout life, a genius in death.
At first glance, your entree into a gallery featuring his art and descriptions of his life is rather underwhelming. But pay attention because unless you’re a Van Gogh enthusiast, you’ll discover things you never knew about this tormented man and his art. And there’s a lot to know.
It’s when you step through into the vast warehouse housing the digital exhibition that your senses are shockingly assaulted by explosions of colour, sound and fragrance. His art is splashed onto every wall and even the floor, his bold brushstrokes magnified into wondrous detail, the huge pieces shown from every angle giving a never-before-seen glimpse into his command of bright, strong colours and their subtle contrasts.
For the purists who expect nothing less, this is nothing new; for the indifferent it’s an ‘oh, gotcha’ moment.
Experience Van Gogh Alive
We dance into his joy with Sunflowers and Almond Blossoms, only to despair at his tortured self-portraits and feel his pain close up as we see his world in Starry Night, painted from his room at the St-Paul de Mausole asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.
Animation brings them to life as Van Gogh’s crows fly across the room, his windmills spin, his stars glimmer and clouds swirl, and while our eyes swivel to feast on these oversized images bathing the surrounding walls – with a combined size of more than 30 IMAX screens – our ears embrace a symphony of classical music, each piece carefully selected to enhance the sensations. And if that doesn’t put you into the mood, your sense of smell picks up the subtle and delicate fragrances permeating the air to capture the ambience and environment of each masterpiece.
Meanwhile, what Van Gogh couldn’t pour into art, and arguably, there isn’t much, he put into words. These are not forgotten, with his most famous and poignant quotes splashed across a wall, illuminations of joy among his spiral into mental illness.
Art for all
This is Sydney’s first large-scale major arts presentation which is completely COVID-19 aware. Masks are a requirement, visitor capacity is tightly controlled and staggered, and COVID-19 marshals patrol to ensure social distancing.
None of this ‘new normal’ impacts on the experience, though. Roaming that giant hall where we once bought our Royal Easter Show showbags, it’s easy to find your own space to enjoy the spectacle without rubbing shoulders with others.
More than six million people have already seen the Grande Exhibitions production across 50 cities across the globe, including Berlin, Singapore, Moscow, Hong Kong and Rome.
Sydney’s exhibition is the largest version, originally designed for the company’s hometown of Melbourne and Australia’s first 2,000-square-metre immersive digital art gallery, The Lume. Plans were forced to change, however, as Melbourne went into lockdown.
Meanwhile, around the world, Van Gogh Alive triggers the question: is it entertainment or art? Who cares?! For the indifferent it captures the imagination and introduces talent previously gone unappreciated. For the aesthetes, it’s nothing enlightening, but perhaps a chance to examine more closely the detail of the brushstrokes and the torment which triggered it all.
The exhibition is open seven days a week until 20 December 2020, with tickets available at Ticketek.