Imagine what it would be like for Vincent van Gogh to step into a 21st-century digital exhibit of all his works. As each painting sprang to life around him, stretching several stories high, wrapping around columns, shifting, swirling, and blooming, one imagines that the Dutch artist, who suffered so much in his lifetime and died before gaining recognition for his talent, would quickly be overcome with emotion.
Nearly 130 years after van Gogh’s death, our fascination with the master painter has only grown, as proven by the ubiquity of his work around the world and a recent succession of feature-length films about his life. Actor Willem Dafoe was just nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of the artist in Julian Schnabel’s 2018 film Eternity’s Gate. A couple years earlier, the Art Institute of Chicago welcomed guests to stay in an AirBnB version of Van Gogh’s Bedrooms. But no portrayal thus far has been quite as visually spectacular as Starry Night, a new digital experience at the Atelier des Lumières in Paris.
The exhibit tracks the complete progression of van Gogh’s paintings, from early works like The Potato Eaters (1885) to those completed the year before his death like Bedroom at Arles (1889). The painter’s signature brushstrokes become more apparent than ever when reproduced at such a grand scale, with vivid colors and dramatic tones “evok[ing] [his] highly emotional, chaotic, and poetic inner world and highlight[ing] the constant interplay of light and shade.”
The exhibit’s curators add that “the thematic itinerary retraces stages of the artist’s life, and his sojourns in Neunen, Arles, Paris, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, and Auvers-sur-Oise. Visitors are transported into the heart of his works, from his early to mature years, and from his sunny landscapes and nightscapes to his portraits and still lives. This is complemented by a new educational device inside the tank located in the center of the Atelier, [where] a selection of van Gogh’s famous paintings are represented in their entirety and accompanied by commentaries about his oeuvre and the museum in which it is exhibited.”
Directed by Gianfranco Iannuzi, Starry Night transforms a former iron foundry into a surreal landscape with the help of 140 laser video projectors and 50 speakers playing original music by Luca Longobardi. Each of van Gogh’s featured paintings is animated with the AMIEX (Art & Music Immersive Experience) system. Within the same facility are two additional exhibits: Dreamed Japan by Danny Rose Studio, which highlights van Gogh’s fascination with Japan through a tour of Japanese prints, and Verse by Thomas Vanz, “a hypnotic and metaphysical journey” about discoveries in astrophysics.
Perhaps van Gogh himself will never get to see this stunning tribute to his legacy, but that’s all the more reason to go appreciate it in person if you can. The Starry Night exhibit will remain in place at Atelier des Lumières until December 31st, 2019. Even if you can’t make it to Paris yourself, you can always honor van Gogh’s life and work by supporting and celebrating other artists while they’re still alive.