Enter the life and paintings of Vincent van Gogh at the Dalí Museum

Let it be said, first and foremost, that nothing eclipses the magical, transformative experience of standing in the presence of an original work of art. Over the course of my 36-year career as a painter, I’ve come to realize that the best way to appreciate and understand an artist’s work fully is to encounter it in person and spend time with it. 

These days the internet is awash with virtual museum and studio tours, art history lectures, music/dance/theater performances, etc. and that’s a wonderful thing! 

Personally, I’m grateful and amazed at the ease of access to thousands of high-definition images of paintings both familiar and newly discovered. I may never be able to visit them all in person but can zoom in from the comfort of my studio and see every unique brush stroke. Museum guards probably wouldn’t let me get my nose as close to the painting surface as I can on my computer screen!

Photo: Steven Kenny

With that in mind, I was somewhat skeptical when the Dalí Museum announced the opening of its new “immersive art installation” called Van Gogh Alive. On the other hand, I wasn’t surprised knowing that the Dalí prides itself on being “at the forefront of technology, embracing new methods to engage guests in unconventional ways.”

Photo: Steven Kenny

The museum’s press release says it best. “The special exhibition features Van Gogh images at enormous scale, presented through high-definition projectors and synchronized to a powerful classical score. Cinema-quality surround sound amplifies the emotion generated by the works themselves. 

“The installation is powered by SENSORY4™, a unique system developed by Grande Experiences of Melbourne, Australia.”

Upon entering the museum’s third floor Hough Family Wing, visitors find themselves in the dark with light radiating from enormous projections of Van Gogh’s paintings onto floor-to-ceiling screens as well as several floor projections. Classical and popular music of Van Gogh’s era provides added context to what we’re seeing. 

Photo: Steven Kenny

The images fade from one to the next chronologically to tell the story of Vincent’s short but highly-productive 10-year artistic journey. We’re also given a helpful peek into the artist’s personal life and psychological makeup by the occasional insertion of text and photos. At times, the paintings become partially animated to help the story along.

If you’re lucky, you’ll enter just as the 45-minute loop is beginning. The images of Vincent’s early career may seem unfamiliar. The tone is somber. Colors are primarily kept to brown, black and yellow. 

Then, slowly, color begins to seep into the compositions until we eventually arrive at the radiant explosions of rainbow-hued images we are most familiar with, that characterize his best-known late style.

Photo: Steven Kenny

Interestingly, as we learn, Vincent’s mental health deteriorated in equal proportion to the increased vibrancy of his paintings and the speed at which he produced them. 

Make sure you stay to the end. As the presentation reaches its crescendo, so does the intensity of the music, and it all ends with a bang. Literally.

Photo: Steven Kenny

For me, this experience may not rival pressing my nose against an original Van Gogh painting, but it does provide many other benefits. Visitors will be sensuously transported through Van Gogh’s world. Through his eyes we see the landscapes he explored, the buildings he inhabited, and the friends he made. 

One won’t forget this highly engaging experience. Hopefully, it will inspire curiosity and perhaps a desire to look more closely at other works of art in the future, starting with the marvelous Dalí permanent collection right across the hall.

Photo: Steven Kenny

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