Review: Van Gogh Alive (Grande Experiences)

Van Gogh Alive

Grand Pavilion, Northshore, Hamilton

Tickets: $35 for adults, from $20 for children

Van Gogh Alive offers a new way to experience the paintings of Dutch post-impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh, including a custom-built venue and a number of installations that recreate elements of his most famous paintings.

Personally, I love traditional art galleries – the proximity to the paintings, the stillness and the quiet – but Van Gogh Alive offers a different way to experience Van Gogh’s artworks through the addition of animation, movement, and a classical score. Grande Experience’s SENSORY4TM system combines multi-channel motion graphics beamed through up to 40 high-definition projectors with cinema-quality surround sound.

We entered the SENSORY4™ gallery through a mirrored room lit by strings of dangling fairy lights, with brushstroke swirls reminiscent of The Starry Night on the floor and ceilings. The vast inside of the Grand Pavilion – a purpose-built, 25,000 square foot venue designed in Adelaide by Anna Cordingley and built in Germany – is covered in huge screens, including sections of the floor, projecting thousands of images of Van Gogh’s work. Excerpts from his letters and writing were also projected, his musings on life and art interwoven with his paintings, as well as brief snippets of information that introduced each of the locations and their place in Van Gogh’s life and work.

Van Gogh’s most famous and recognisable works are represented, of course – the sunflowers, The Starry Night, Almond Blossoms, his self-portraits – but also many portraits, still lifes, and landscapes I hadn’t encountered before. The images and information are timed to the music, and animation has been added not only to the transitions between works but to the paintings themselves: petals fall across Almond Blossoms, the water of Starry Night over the Rhone glitters with light, stars shoot across the swirls of The Starry Night. The SENSORY4™ gallery also includes scent, although I can’t say I was able to notice this, perhaps due to wearing a mask.

The 45-minute cycle of images and music began again, and we exited through the much-photographed sunflower room – again, mirrored walls, and hundreds of fake sunflowers reflecting outwards indefinitely. The entry and exit points of the gallery are both set up as photo opportunities, and I am intrigued by this increasingly common inclusion of a space for us to perform our engagement with the art, as well as for the actual engagement itself.

The exhibition is not only about Vincent Van Gogh’s art, but also his life, his illness, and his death. Van Gogh Alive splits the artists’ work into a number of locations – the Netherlands, Arles, Saint Rémy and Auvers-sur-Oise – and shows the development of his work and his now-iconic colour palette and brushwork while living in these locations.

The foyer includes a gift shop, bar, and restaurant, a seating area created as a likeness of Café Terrace at Night, as well as a recreation of Vincent’s painting of his bedroom in Arles in three dimensions. There are quotes from the artist, and information about his life and times in the Interpretive Area, which I’d recommend reading for context before entering the gallery.  

For ticketing and further information, visit the Van Gogh Alive website

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