Whither Thou Goghest

I’ll say one thing for the immersive Van Gogh exhibit at the TCF Center in Detroit this summer: it’s an art display like none other.

One might even debate whether it’s actually displaying art at all, since there are no actual paintings in the entire exhibit.

The first thing I ever learned about Van Gogh was from the song Starry, Starry Night by Don McLean, that this world was never meant for one as beautiful as him. As a dreamy young girl who was a sucker for a good love song, those lyrics consistently could bring me close to tears, and I quickly absorbed that view of the artist as my own.

That feeling was further reinforced by a recent film called Loving Vincent, where each and every frame of the movie was hand painted in homage to his body of work. The texture of his style somehow leapt off of the screen and made for a truly magnificent cinematic experience.

This Beyond Van Gogh exhibit took a bit of a page from that film experience, in terms of sheer magnitude: projections filled the large convention center room with a montage of his paintings, expanded in size to touch the walls and floor, and you essentially walk into the pictures. No holds barred if you want to see each Van Gogh brush stroke, up close and personal, as there is no need for a security guard or automatic alarm Siri voice to tell us to please step away from the painting.

Because again, there are no actual paintings in this exhibit. It’s all images, projection.

Color and light.

The images are sliced together in a film reel with some animation here and there, a 30+ minute tour through his works, accompanied by a loud new agey soundtrack just quiet enough to still be able to have a conversation with the people you came with, but just loud enough to hide the fact that other people in the room are having such conversations, and just repetitive enough to make you want to limit your stay to that half hour.

It took us a minute to adjust to the reality that this wouldn’t be like strolling through a museum — it was something else entirely — and as I write this, I’m hesitant to put a word on it, because I don’t feel I’ve found the right one yet. (This is why I’m not pursuing a career in becoming an art critic just yet.)

Overall we had a fun time seeing his work decorate the space, and shooting my shadow and my boots to my heart’s content (as is my wont). I still prefer a personal encounter with his pieces like you can get at the MET, or even the DIA soon for that matter, but I applaud this effort to shine a spotlight on an artist who suffered for his sanity, and tried to set us free.

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