“I would like to walk with you there to find out if we look at things the same way,” the artist Vincent Van Gogh wrote to his brother in the fall of 1885.
Nearly 140 years later, millions of people around the world – thousands of them from the Valley – can see the world the way Van Gogh saw it.
Beyond Van Gogh, a traveling art exhibit honoring the Dutch post-impressionist, has extended its exhibit at the Fresno Convention and Entertainment Center through August 21.
The immersive experience, created by French-Canadian creative director Mathieu St-Arnaud and his team at Normal Studio in Montreal, aims to place visitors inside more than 300 of the artist’s greatest works. Patrons won’t be looking at paintings like The Starry Night, Sunflowers, and Cafe Terrace at Night from the outside, but from the inside of the art itself.
Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience takes on the challenge of breathing new life into Van Gogh’s vast oeuvre. By using cutting-edge 3D projection technology and music to illuminate all of his genius, guests can experience the artist with all their senses,” Saint-Arnaud said in a release.
The exhibition begins with screens explaining the artist’s life. Empty picture frames hang in the air from invisible wires, a clue that Van Gogh found beauty in everything and discovered art everywhere.
Van Gogh, the exhibition explains, found beauty in simple things. A pair of boots, unused chairs, sunflowers, strangers’ faces and the night sky of Paris are just a few objects that come to life during the experience, which lasts about an hour.
Using 30,000 square feet and four trillion pixels of light, the experience projects the artist’s influential and powerful work throughout, above and below patrons. Van Gogh’s loose brushstrokes are recreated, swirling above and to the side as visitors spin to keep up.
The birds, frozen in place for over a century on Van Gogh’s canvas, are free to fly again. The portraits flash. The Dutch windmills turn in the breeze once more, the tide comes in after dark. Visitors will find themselves on the beach, then in an orchard, then cooking potatoes in a dark room.
The prolific artist’s body of work comes to life in every color the artist can afford to paint with.
Van Gogh, a tragic figure, failed as an art dealer and later as a pastor before devoting his life to painting for a living – such as he was. He lived in poverty and dealt with mental illness – he famously cut off his own ear after a fight with his brother, and perhaps his most famous work, The Starry Night, was inspired by the view outside his mental hospital window.
Van Gogh is believed to have sold only one painting in his lifetime. Seven months before his death, he sold the “Red Vineyard” for 400 francs. Believing himself to be a failure, he took his own life in 1890 at the age of 37.
Thanks to posthumous critical reappraisal, Van Gogh is now considered one of the most influential figures in art. His works, more than 2,000 of which were completed over a period of about a decade, now regularly sell for tens of millions of dollars.
Perhaps the most breathtaking moments of the experience, in their own way, are when the screens are wiped by an invisible cloth or by what appears to be rain. We are left with a blank canvas, wondering “is it over” but hopeful for whatever beauty is next.
Perhaps in this way, the exhibition successfully conveys the point of view of Van Gogh – an artist who experienced the lowest lows, but also saw deeply into the beauty of life.
“Beyond Van Gogh” runs through Aug. 21 in Exhibit Hall 1 of the Fresno Convention and Entertainment Center, 2336 Kern St., Fresno. Tickets can be purchased at https://vangoghfresno.com.