By Owen Bryant
Living in a self-professed art town, it isn’t long until the next exhibition, theater performance or symphony hits the scene to wow audiences. Reno fosters a thriving, ever-growing local arts community, but it’s nice to see our town welcome with the same enthusiasm the non-local arts, like the Broadway Comes to Reno series, or in this case, the Beyond Van Gogh experience.
The immersive exhibition opened in August, but only recently did I have the chance to check it out. With only 10 days left, I figured I would send out a last call before it moves on to the next city.
Van Gogh is a name most people probably recognize, just as easily as they might recognize his paintings. The Dutch post-impressionist painter is responsible for iconic works like his sunflower still lifes, numerous self-portraits, and perhaps his most famous, the swirling and splendid Starry Night. But many may not be as familiar with the artist’s life, which was just as interesting and as complicated as his paintings. That is more than I need to get into here, and it is all explained in the exhibit, so if you’re curious, I encourage you to buy a ticket.
I wasn’t sure what to expect of the exhibition, but in my mind, I pictured somewhat of a maze of different rooms, possibly representing different periods of the artist’s life and works. While I wasn’t totally wrong, I was a little surprised that it was really only two rooms, but that had little effect on my experience.
Upon entering, you proceed down a darkened hallway to the first room where Van Gogh is introduced. In a series of full-size placards, his professional and personal life is illuminated, both figuratively and literally – they’re actually glowing. Take the time to read them. I knew a little about the man’s tumultuous life, but I now have a new appreciation for his art after this experience.
From there, you proceed into the main room where things get a lot more fantastical, and dare I say, a tad psychedelic. About the size of a high school gymnasium, every single surface of the room is lit up with projections of Van Gogh’s works. They blend together, creating one continuous work of art all around you.
Some of the works are interpolations, expanded upon to match up seamlessly with everything else. Van Gogh’s post-impressionistic style already has a lot of movement, and this is enhanced by making the paintings literally move in front of you. Water ripples, birds soar, and trees flutter as the paintings come alive before your very eyes. They fade in and out almost imperceptibly, so no matter where you turn, you’re always looking at something new.
Interspersed within the paintings are quotes from various moments and figures in Van Gogh’s life that reflect upon the periods being displayed in the projections. A soothing soundtrack plays overhead that also reflects the moods of each period. It is as if you’ve jumped into a living picture book that seduces all of the senses, resulting in an almost cathartic experience. I walked around for a while, trying to take in as much as I could, but eventually I found a bench and just wanted to sit and meditate while Air’s “Alone in Kyoto” lulled me.
It was a moment of peace and beauty and awe I wasn’t fully expecting.
If you take your time going through it all, the whole thing should take about an hour. Eventually you will notice the projections repeating, and then it’s up to you if you want to move on or not. If you do decide to go, on the way out is a gift area that might be of interest but watch out for some of those prices. Again, I wasn’t expecting such an abrupt end to the exhibition.
It could have done well with a final room to provide a bit of closure instead of ending the thing with a gauntlet of merchandise, but I do appreciate the experience on a grand level.
There are still tickets available through October 30 on vangoghreno.com. This is really a one-of-a-kind experience, so if you’re looking for something to do, check this out before it’s gone for good. I can’t think of a better artist than Van Gogh for this type of immersive exhibition.
You won’t be disappointed.