Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience

This is a different Van Gogh images projection show than the one that's been on in San Francisco. The reviews I've seen say it's better, and it's also closer, which is the determining factor for one with only a casual interest. It's in the San Jose convention center's South Hall, which is the giant temp building they put up to occupy their back parking lot a few years ago.

You show your proof of vaccination - though they're quite bewildered by the actual card, expecting it to be transferred to a phone - and nobody's very interested in your ticket - and head down a clogged (because people read very slowly) passage by a series of panels with explanatory narration and quotes from Vince's letters in English and Spanish. Finally, if you get around that and the arrow-bearing signs reading "Gogh This Way" which must be terribly confusing to anyone who doesn't know how to mispronounce the name, you get to the main hall.

My tastes in visual art run towards the fractal. I like art which reveals more detail the closer you look at it. Van Gogh isn't like that. His art looks better the further back from it you get (which is hard to do in a cramped and crowded art gallery). Close-up it disintegrates, as the impressionists' art does, except that Van Gogh is more dynamic than any impressionist. You get up close and personal with a Van Gogh not to appreciate its beauty, but to study his technique.

Well, this exhibit is entirely up close. It's a huge room draped with hanging canvases all around and some randomly in the middle, on all of which and on the floor photo images of Van Gogh artwork are projected from ceiling cameras at Brobdingnagian size, with 2-4 fold repetition across the room so you don't have to look at everything. It's technique study time, all right, except that a major part of studying Van Gogh's technique is appreciating the three-dimensionality of the clumps of paint stuck to the canvas, and you're missing that here. There's nowhere to stand back, and if you get up really close to this, you see the individual pixels of the images.

What keeps this exhibit going, and what makes it so unpainterly, is its activity. The images change every minute or two, and in between they move. Images flow onto the screens bit by bit, as if an invisible paint brush were creating them as you watch. Ink drawings erupt into color. Foregrounds move in front of backgrounds, clouds waft around in the breeze, petals rush past blossoming branches, waves rock in the surf, portraits of people actually blink - oh, come on.

The whole sequence takes about 30-40 minutes to run on loop, and it's worth seeing parts of it twice. Attendees mostly stood around or sat on the floor. There were a few chairs and benches, and after a few minutes I took refuge on a rare vacant one. Meanwhile recorded music played, hard to hear over the roar of the air conditioning, but it seemed a mixture of minimalism, folk, and Parisian cafe music.

And then there's a meager gift shop with exhibit swag (plus covid masks with Vince's paintings on them: that I liked), and out the door.

It was an immersive experience, it gave a definite sense of the artist's style, but it also felt artificially curated and separate from the real art.

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