If Vincent Van Gogh were alive today, this might just be how he’d want his artworks to be displayed: moving, flowing, floating, overwhelming.
Art comes alive in “Beyond Van Gogh,” an immersive multimedia experience that’s drawing masses of masked-up art lovers to the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.
Slashes of black paint flap their wings and fly across undulating skies; brushstrokes add color and texture to churning landscapes and shimmering surf; rooftops fall away as we rise into a starry night so deeply blue, it’s accompanied by a lazy jazz trumpet.
Vincent Van Gogh’s own larger-than-life self-portraits can’t help winking as we stare.
“He is an easy fit for an immersive experience like this, with a body of work focused on light and movement and color,” said art historian Fanny Curtat, a member of the “Beyond Van Gogh” creative team at Normal Studio in Montreal. “His work already looks like it’s leaping towards you. The colors are so bright; the textures are so intense.”
“Beyond Van Gogh” runs through Feb. 12 at the Oregon Convention Center. A visit takes about an hour, during which hundreds of Van Gogh artworks appear, overlap and fade away again as they’re projected on the walls of a hangar-sized room.
IF YOU GO
What: “Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience”
When: Through Feb. 12
Where: Oregon Convention Center, 777 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Portland.
Tickets: Starting at $47 plus fees per adult.
On the web:vangoghportland.com
When The Columbian visited on a recent Thursday morning, that huge room was well attended but not crowded, with plenty of room to move around. Visit the exhibition website to learn more about COVID-19 safety protocols, which include proof-of-vaccination and mask requirements, as well as timed entry.
On their way to being swallowed up by the main attraction, visitors stroll alongside panels that relate a quick version of Van Gogh’s biography and quote the revealing letters he wrote to his main supporter, his art-dealer brother. The narrative emphasizes that, even as the yearning and driven Van Gogh (1853-1890) became increasingly unhinged, his art reached extraordinary heights of originality and power. Many of the masterpieces we know best today — like “Sunflowers” and “The Starry Night” — were painted after the troubled artist had sliced off one ear and checked himself into an insane asylum.
Tragically, Van Gogh died by suicide just as his paintings were starting to earn overdue respect, Curtat said. He might have vanished without a trace from the art world, she said, were it not for his sister-in-law, Johanna Van Gogh-Bonger, who devoted years of her life to preserving and showing his paintings. Eventually she gave her collection to what became the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
While Van Gogh’s reputation as the rock star of all tormented geniuses now seems fixed, Curtat said, the artworks themselves say something different about Van Gogh’s mind.
“You don’t see darkness in the paintings,” she said. “You see joy and color and even healing. He is known for his inner struggles, but his art transcended that. It’s all light and beauty.”
Because Van Gogh found beauty worth painting even in the quietest, randomest corners of his own room, Curtat believes he’s the artist a pandemic-plagued, locked-down world needs right now.
“There’s something so inspiring about him finding beauty in onions on the kitchen table or a pair of boots on the floor,” she said. “He craved beauty and, even though he wasn’t good at being around other people, he wanted to help them see the beauty he saw. He wanted to bring them joy.”