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“Van Gogh Alive” Walking through the artists work

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Van Gogh Alive

Spark Arena, Auckland

Until May 6

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Van Gogh Alive is promoted as being the most visited multi-sensory experience in the world. It must be. It has been seen in over 50 cities around the world including in the last few month, Wellington and Christchurch. The scale of the whole thing is impressive. There are dozens of large screens, up to seven meters high which fill the Spark Arena including projections onto the floor. Then there is accompanying soundtrack which creates a surround sound environment.

Van Gogh has been in the news for the last few decades with numerous exhibitions of the artist’s work even in Auckland and some of his paintings like the “Portrait of Dr Gachet”, “Irises”,  and “Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers” have been among the  most expensive paintings sold at auction. Then there have been the films about the artist from “Lust for Life” starring Kirk Douglas  as the artist and more recently “Loving Vincent”, the first fully animated movie which combined his images in a narrative about the artist’s life.

The Van Gogh Alive show follows the artist life from his time in Belgium, his life in Paris and then in the South of France, reaching its climax with an all-encompassing display of “Starry Night” in which the whole room comes alive with the pulsing colours and movement of that iconic work.

Some of the places he lived in are evoked with drawings and sketches he made, minor works which are rarely seen in exhibitions. These show his ability to render locations and  people with keen observation and brisk notations.

Some of his  important series of paintings and periods are emphasised with  bursts of colourful collages which envelop the viewer. One sequence is of his flower painting where  the dramatically colourful blooms are animated along with floating blossom accompanied by the music of Debussy. The sequence which shows the influence of Japanese art brings together his Eastern inspired work along with Japanese  prints from his own collection.

The show is not really an exhibition of his work, there are no new insights into the artist’s work, but it is a journey of discovery, one which comes out of the joy of close observation as well as sweeping panoramas. Seeing the paintings closeup  reveals the detail and texture of the artists technique where even what appears at first to be mere background colour is full of impasto swirling paint.

It is aimed at giving the viewer the dream  sensation of walking into and through Van Gogh’s paintings providing an engaging and enjoyable experience which will appeal to all audiences, particularly children.

In this walk-through of his life, we are given an  impressionistic take on the events, people and  places of the artist  expressed in the intensity of his colours and the drama of the drawn line. In the rural settings the works are further animated by digital processes so that the crows in the field actually fly, slashes of rain fly across the screens  and the windmill vanes turn.

While the big digital display is not really an exhibition of the artist’s work there is an accompanying show of his major works with information his life and art which is informative and worth studying before the show. Then there is also aa couple of  instagramers delights – a three-dimensional mock-up of his “Bedroom in Arles” and the immersive Sunflower room

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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