Just before the holidays MBFF had the great privilege of being invited to experience the world-famous sensory exhibition Van Gogh Alive – the experience in Lausanne . . . in this exhibition, you literally step into Dutch born painter Vincent Van Gogh’s world, his life brought alive by bright digital renditions of his paintings.
Did you know that Van Gogh Alive – the experience, developed by Grande Exhibitions and SENSORY4™, is ” the most visited multimedia exhibitions in the world “, with more than 7 million recorded visitors? (Van Gogh Alive website). And with good reason; the world of Van Gogh is fascinating and in this exhibition, even more stimulating!
The exhibition will run in Lausanne until the 20th February 2022.
Van Gogh Alive – MBFF’s experience
The evening after our visit, my husband and I discussed at length how this exhibition had made us feel. We both agreed (and we don’t always!) that it truly felt like being present in Van Gogh’s paintings, of seeing what he saw and of hearing what he heard, as he fervantly painted. And we also felt that we could sense his changing moods: his joy, his pain, but always his passion. As we know, Vincent Van Gogh (1853 – 1890), one of our masters of post-impressionism, was both a creative and tortured soul, and this conflict came through poetically, both visually and through the complementary 🎼 musical score.
Our boys – aged 10 and 7 years – also really enjoyed the sensory experience. I think that it helped that we had read books about Van Gogh together, and had discussed his life, emotional turmoil and his powerful works.
The first room of the exibition gives a brief biography of Vincent Van Gogh and explains in a series of panels (in French and in German) some of his better known works of art, painted in the different places that he lived in 🇳🇱 The Netherlands and in 🇫🇷 France.
In this room, you learn that self-taught Van Gogh was a prolific worker, and painted an astonishing 900+ paintings (and another 1000+ drawings and sketches) in the last 10 years of his life . . . and yet sold only one of these in his lifetime: The Red Vineyards near Arles (1888). Bought by a collector in 1890, this painting now resides in the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow.
My boys quickly became impatient to move on to the cinematic experience, and I’d have liked to have calmly read each panel, but I equally wanted to experience the next stage of the visit with them, so I moved on quickly (and took photos to read later!).
Just before leaving this room there is also a reproduction of Van Gogh‘s bedroom in Arles (1888), which is pretty amazing to see!
From here, you walk into the cinematic and central part of the exhibition, and you step into Van Gogh’s paintings . . . you are truly immersed in his life and works that are projected on giant screens all around you, and even under your feet! The experience is very poetic – fluctuations of colour, light and darkness reflecting the inner turmoil, often chaotic thoughts of the painter. You are much more than a spectator during this experience!
I think the best way to experience this part of the visit is to sit and just absorb. You can sit for as long as you like – Van Gogh’s paintings and drawings come alive around you. It doesn’t matter where you sit, from any angle you can experience the light, colour, movement and music – it is so sensory! Here you can see my boys looking pretty comfortable (though one is such a wriggly worm!).
As a viewer, I was most definitely drawn closer to 🖼 Van Gogh’s paintings than I had ever been before; at times I could focus on each expressive, passionate 🖌 brushstroke.
Throughout, the viewing experience is complemented by 🎼 a powerful and well-chosen classical music score (Bach, and Erik Satie to mention a couple of composers), and this music is so poetic, and fundamental to the experience.
The cinematic journey is divided into five movements, and so you visit the places that this master of modern art made timeless through his work between 1880 and his death in 1890: landscapes, portraits, self-portraits, still life paintings – you are witness to Van Gogh’s artistic evolution during his meandering:
- 🇳🇱 The Netherlands – the early paintings depict a sombre period, with much darker tones, compared to later paintings / you’ll see the The Potato Eaters (1885) here;
- 🇫🇷 Paris – in 1886, Van Gogh settled in Paris, inspired by the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist movement and the city’s raw energy; here his style evolved;
- 🇫🇷 Arles – Van Gogh’s arrival in the south was marked by bright, warm colours and this period is generally considered to be one of the happier moments of his life, with the optimism of starting an artists’ retreat with his friend Paul Gaugin. From this period, you’ll see Van Gogh’s bedroom in Arles (1888), Sunflowers (1888), and also the series of his night time paintings, like La Nuit étoilée (1889) and Café de Nuit;
- 🇫🇷 Saint-Rémy – this is the period that Van Gogh spent in an asylum, and you’ll see the Amandiers en fleurs (1890) the irises . . .
- 🇫🇷 Auvers-sur-Oise – Van Gogh spent the last months of his life here, before suicide by gunshot wound to his stomach. During this short time, he created such masterpieces as the The Church of d’Auvers-sur-Oise (1890) and Portrait of Dr Gachet (1890);
During the experience, you also get up close with the people that Van Gogh met and those closest to him (his brother Théo, Dr Gachet) through portraits that he painted, and the extensive letters that he wrote.
My husband and I could have watched the cinematic experience again and again (we even commented how we’d have been quite happy to settle down with a pillow and a blanket!), but the boys got restless after realising they were watching the same images again, so we reluctantly moved on . . .
Don’t forget to walk through 🌻 the sunflower field on your way out . . .
And there is even a little 🎨 art studio, where you can take a Van Gogh tutorial . . . located near the exit, we found it a bit too chilly to have a go ourselves!
Expect the whole experience to take about 1h30 (though I could have stayed much longer!).
Grande Exhibitions Technology SENSORY4™
Van Gogh Alive was developed by Grande Exhibitions, SENSORY4™, and produced by GC Events. The interactive exhibition was conceived as ” a unique system combining up to forty high definition projectors with and sound which offer a quality comparable to that of films, to provide one of the most exciting multi-screen environments in the world. SENSORY4™ transforms the exhibition space into a dynamic, informative and visually spectacular experience which touches and sublimates all the viewer’s senses. Synchronized with a powerful and suggestive music, more than 3000 images in high definition, projected thanks to the innovative SENSORY4™ solution, will create an electrifying decor that will fill the giant screens, walls and columns, from ceiling to floor, completely immersing the visitor in the vibrant colors and intense details that characterize Van Gogh’s style.” (Van Gogh Alive website)
Preparing children for the visit