Beyond Vincent, There Is Nothing
I want to be impressed,
be proven wrong.
I want to know that art
can cross the divide,
be projected on a scale
that does not shadow its own beauty.
Instead, a meretricious display
leaves a foul taste and fails
to honor the work of a master.
This past weekend, we went to St. Louis to attend Beyond van Gogh, The Immersive Experience. I understand that presentations differ from venue to venue, and I have seen images from other cities that did not appear in St. Louis. Video shorts in the banners of sites for the event in various cities have a quality that I found to be nonexistent in the presentation we attended. I considered this one to be underwhelming. It says something when the highlight of the weekend was visiting a couple of craft breweries in St. Louis. (And, of course, a visit to the Gateway Arch, even on a cloudy day.)
The presentation was a projection of some of the works of Vincent van Gogh on a thirty minute loop in a room with a lofty ceiling, but with four walls that were 20 feet high in an area that might have been 100 feet by 50 feet. Two large, four-sided pillars stood down the center-line of the room. The projection from the ceiling onto adjacent long and short walls and one pillar was repeated on the other two walls and pillar. Both of the long walls had a “seam” where projections overlapped, creating blurriness and, in some instances, a double image. At times, there seemed to be too much light in the room.
Our tickets were for a 60 minute period, but we were advised to stay as long as we wished. We stayed through four cycles so that we could see all of the presentation, and at no time was the room crowded.
I recognize the importance of accessibility for people who may not have an understanding of van Gogh, but people standing directly against the wall, casting shadows on the projection while they posed for selfies, or parents who paid the price of admission so that their children could stand by the wall talking about who-knows-what as they blocked the view of others, added nothing to the experience.
As for the production, in some instances, the high resolution offered details, such as brushstrokes present in paintings that I likely will never see in person. Of course, the relief/texture of those brushstrokes could not be reproduced, but that was to be expected. One key, touted aspect of the event was a form of animation, such as moving stars in The Starry Night, or a glimmering night sky and a shimmer on the water of Starry Night Over the Rhône, which actually did produce a tantalizing effect. Another effect was the layering of branches and blossoms, unrelated to the art they covered, that spread and grew until they consumed the original projection. This effect was impressive, albeit tacky.
Instrumental music, some of it incongruous, played throughout the presentation. What America (as an instrumental), by Simon and Garfunkel, has to do with van Gogh, I don’t know. As Don McLean’s Vincent (instrumental) played, none of the song references matched scenes as they were presented and when they would have been most effective, including The Starry Night. As for The Starry Night, the focus was on the stars in the sky (until replaced by an animation of swirling lines), with no emphasis on the village. If the cedar, a prominent feature in the foreground of the painting, was present, I missed it entirely.
As I said earlier, I considered the presentation to be underwhelming. This brief interview regarding a viewing of the original in Paris, at L’Atelier des Lumiéres, may be more objective.
This video of the original in Paris is pretty impressive.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons – The Starry Night, by Vincent van Gogh (cropped here)
Photo: The Gateway Arch, St. Louis, Missouri (click image for larger view in new tab)
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