Van Gogh – Immersion in the Experience of Art Which Comes to Life
On November 18, 2021, the multimedia immersion into the world of Van Gogh was opened in Vienna for the first time. This experience has been touring the world for a few years now as "The Van Gogh Experience - Alive". The exhibition is not the first of its kind, other artists have been presented in a similar way, but not with such a colossal success.
Vienna is a place where art has always been part of the spirit of the city, but for the last ten years here I had managed to see no more than five Van Gogh’s paintings through temporary exhibitions. I really didn't know what to expect from this experience.
It was the last night of freedom before yet another lockdown in all of Austria. I had assumed that most people wouldn't make the effort to go that far and would prefer to go to either go to the demonstrations or to the Christmas markets before all the shops shops close for an unknown period of time.
METAStadt is an old complex of brick buildings, built in 1898. It used to house the Berlin Electric Company. In the 21st century, the place was entirely renovated and now it is one of the new locations for cultural events of all kinds. I hadn't been to this part of Vienna's suburbs before, and was once again amazed at this nation's ability to use its old buildings for something new and beautiful. Many of you might know that the huge bunkers from World War II are now home for museums, for the famous Vienna Aquarium, for some of the faculties to the University of Vienna.
The ticket was for a one-hour stay and in this time window I managed to experience it twice, staying ten minutes longer.
The hall was really huge, with chairs and cushions to sit on, but most people were seated on the floor. The grave silence as I entered shocked me. At the beginning, I was quite confused because the walls were moving, the floor was alive, the paintings appeared and moved to the rhythm of the impactful classical music. It was all too much to take in, such a mind blowing hit to the senses, that I looked for a place to sit and just feel. Virtual rain was pouring down on our faces, stars were falling from Van Gogh's starry sky, the cherry blossoms were flowing – if I reached out, I'd catch them. The clouds in the sky above the sheaves of wheat were moving, we could feel the wind. The panels were arranged in such a way that one could see everything several times no matter where they were standing or sitting. These paintings, which many of us might not be able to see in real live, were actually brought to life. Then they froze for seconds on the several-meters high walls. Then they flowed and merged into one other, like slides in which everything is alive.
I looked around once and saw so many young people, I saw faces staring in awe, pain in the eyes, and our guilt and humanity that this man had lived as poor as a dog, that he had sold one, one painting in his life, which is now in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, and he had painted more than 900 in his short life. He committed suicide at the age of 37 and did not die after the shot. He died at the hospital because there was no surgeon to remove the bullet. He died totally aware of the fact that he didn't want to live any longer.
In these paintings, I saw shamelessly beautiful sceneries against a backdrop of endless human poverty and despair. A plate of potatoes. People bent over the ground, working to full exhaustion. Lonely people leaning on the tables of shabby restaurants. Unhappy love. Van Gogh didn't live with the illusion of equality and justice, but he had an eye for every beautiful detail in the world around us. In the film, “At Eternity’s Gate”, Daniel Defoe performed yet another great part as Van Gogh. The room I saw in the movie and the falling apart shoes thrown in the corner, the despair in the eyes – everything was as I saw it in the paintings. Unfortunately, when the film hit the theaters, the world was facing the pandemic and people forgot about art.
Whether Van Gogh's madness was a result of too much absinthe and opium, whether it was due to desperation or both, we can only speculate. To many people, he is known as the painter who cut off his ear and sent it to a woman in a brothel. Few know about his epilepsy, his depressions and his bipolar disorder – things he struggled with alone or for which he voluntarily confined himself to an asylum where he painted some of his darkest paintings.
Truth is he lived without hope and died without hope, without ever suspecting that one day the whole world would bow down before his every brushstroke and that his paintings would not sell again because you cannot put a price on something that is one of a kind, something priceless, because they are claimed as national and world heritage.
Maybe there is hope for us if our eyes are still open for beauty, if we can still feel all that emotion, if we are capable of appreciation.
"I want to touch people with my art. I want them to say, "He feels deeply and he feels tenderly."
That was the big caption that greeted us and only after the experience, did we understand what he had meant. His immense love for every suffering human being and for the wonders of the world are clearly expressed in the gentle, bold, firm strokes with which his brush caressed the canvas.