“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.
Almost 140 years later, millions of people around the world – thousands of them from the Valley – can see the world as Van Gogh saw it.
Beyond Van Gogh, a touring art exhibit honoring the Dutch post-impressionist, has extended its run 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 Montreal’s Studio Normal, aims to place patrons inside more than 300 of the artist’s greatest works. Patrons won’t see paintings like “Starry Night,” “The Flower” and “Café Terrace at Night” from the outside, but the art itself from the inside.
“Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience” takes on the challenge of breathing new life into Van Gogh’s great work. Through the use of the latest 3D projection technology and music to illuminate all of his genius, guests can experience the artist with all their senses,” St-Arnaud said in a release.
The exhibition begins with displays 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 found 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 some of the themes that come to life during the experience, which lasts about an hour.
Using 30,000 square meters and four trillion pixels of light, the experience projects the artist’s impactful and powerful work around, above and below patrons. Van Gogh’s loose brushstrokes are recreated, swirling up and side to side as patrons spin to keep up.
The birds, frozen in place for more than a century on Van Gogh’s canvas, are free to fly again. Portraits flash. Dutch windmills turn once more in the breeze, the tide rolls in after dark. Visitors will find themselves on the beach, then in an orchard, then preparing potatoes in a dark room.
The breadth of the prolific artist’s works come to life in every color the artist could 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 it was. He lived in poverty and struggled with mental illness – he cut off his famous ear after an argument with his brother, and perhaps his most famous work, Starry Night, was inspired by the view outside his window in a mental asylum.
It is believed that Van Gogh sold only one painting during 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 a posthumous critical reappraisal, Van Gogh is now seen as one of the most influential figures in art. His works, of which more than 2,000 were completed over a span of about a decade, now regularly sell for tens of millions of dollars.
Perhaps the most surprising moments of the experience, in their own way, are when the screens are obscured by an invisible cloth or what appears to be rain. We are left with a blank canvas, wondering “is it over” but hopeful for whatever beauty may come next.
Perhaps in that way the exhibition successfully conveys the perspective of Van Gogh – an artist who experienced the lowest, but also saw deeply into the beauty of life.
Beyond Van Gogh runs through Aug. 21 at Fresno Convention & Entertainment Center Exhibit Hall 1, 2336 Kern St., Fresno. Tickets can be purchased at https://vangoghfresno.com.