Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Van Gogh Alive

Last week we went to see the presentation "Van Gogh Alive" at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Grounds with AACI.  This was a show put on by an Australian company and consists of large high density photographs of his paintings projected on numerous screens in a large blackened tent, called the Maxidome. 
First we were briefed by a guide about Van Gogh and the exhibition.  The guide who was an artist himself, although informative, did not actually guide us, but provided us with background of Van Gogh's life and paintings.  Two points he made, Van Gogh's productive painting period was a mere ten years, from 1880-1890, during which he painted some 2,000 canvases.  Also, Van Gogh's technique evolved into short straight brushstrokes of pure color using thick paint. By making these strokes follow a sinuous direction he gave the painting an impression of movement.  He rarely diluted his paint with a solvent such as turpentine and he rarely merged the basic colors to make gradations of color.  He particularly loved pure basic colors such as yellow and dark (cobalt) blue. That is why his paintings are so bold and emotionally effective.   There were also posters of some of his most famous paintings exhibited outside the show, with detailed information about their content, and their significance in his life. 
These strokes of pure color can be seen very clearly in hyper-fine detail in the huge projections on building high screens that surround the viewer.  The show that lasts about 40 mins includes many of his most famous works and many that are unknown.   One can leave the tent and go out for a sit down (very few stools inside to sit on) or a drink in an adjacent part of the tent, and then go back in to the continuous show.  In the show they try to make things more "alive" by having movement in the paintings, such as windmills that turn and trains that chug along.   They also project quotes from his letters to his brother Theo (he wrote on average one letter a day) that are related to the pictures being shown, and also the showing is accompanied by classical music that enhances the whole experience. 
A few notes about Van Gogh, his life can be divided into: his early period (1883-6), when he was starting to paint in Holland, consisting of many dark pictures of peasants that are quite depressing; then his much brighter paintings when he moved to Paris (1886-8) and started painting in his very expressive (so-called post-impressionist) style; his characteristically bright paintings when he moved to Arles (1888-9) in Provence and perhaps painted his best works; the period when he was committed to the asylum at Saint-Remy, in which his paintings became more intense and personal; finally the short period (1890) when he returned to northern France to Auvers, where he supposedly shot himself and bled to death over a period of two days.  It is well known that he sold only one painting during his lifetime and one soon after.  It was his sister-in-law who exhibited his paintings some 20 years after his death and that of Theo who brought him fame. 
The show was a very enjoyable experience, but has some drawbacks.  It over-emphasizes the size of his paintings and their impact and if used for other artists could tend to replace actually looking at their paintings.  Further, because there are many screens to watch, one inevitably misses some projections and so one needs to go back inside and follow the show several times to see it all.  Overall it was a very stimulating experience for one who idolizes Van Gogh's art.


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