Suffering from severe depression and poverty which led to his suicide at age 37, Vincent Willem van Gogh (1853 – 1890) posthumously became one of the most famous and influential figures in art history. A Dutch post-impressionist painter, he created more than 2000 works in the last decade of his life, most of which date during his last two years.
Living in Paris in 2014/15, I took a day trip to the town of Auvers-sur-Oise where Van Gogh spent the last days of his life (May-July 1890). On July 27th, although there were no witnesses it is believed he shot himself in the chest. He died 30 hours later, on July 29th with his brother Theo by his side as he uttered his last words, “the sadness will last forever”. Theo died the following January and was buried in Utrecht, Netherlands. In 1914 his widow had his body exhumed and moved to Auvers-sur-Oise to be re-buried beside his brother.
While in Auvers, I visited the Musee de l’Absinthe and had a taste of the “green fairy”, the church from the painting Church at Auvers-sur-Oise, the home of Dr. Paul Gachet, and the graves of Theo and Vincent at the cemetery in Auvers. I also visited Auberge Ravoux where on the upper floor you can view the room where Vincent Van Gogh died. It has been restored to its original.
I have always been a fan of Van Gogh and especially The Starry Night which was painted during his stay in the St. Paul Asylum in Saint Remy. So, when I saw there was going to be a Van Gogh Exhibition during the time I was going to be in Paris in May 2019, I immediately checked with my fellow travelers and bought tickets. It was called Van Gogh: Starry Night and Dreamed Japan: Images of the Floating World and I was hooked.
I honestly didn’t know what to expect from the exhibition. It was housed at Atelier des Lumieres (light workshop), a 19th century restored foundry, in the 11th arrondissement, with much of its industrial architecture, including metal structures, a cistern, a basin, and a high brick chimney, left intact. Making use of 140 video projectors and 50 speakers, I was blown away, no pun intended. After sitting through the show twice, I commented to my cousins that it was probably the most amazing exhibition I have ever seen. The show consisted of 3 parts. The first created by filmmaker Thomas Vanz was a short cosmic display depicting the birth of the universe accompanied by dreamlike music called Verse.
This was followed by Dreamed Japan: Images of a Floating World by Danny Rose Studio. Van Gogh was an avid collector of Japanese prints and they seemed to become an inspiration for some of his work. Following these two shorts was Starry Night, the 35-minute main feature. More than anything, I think what made this so outstanding for me was the playlist. It featured an eclectic mix which included Kozmic Blues by Janis Joplin, O Mio Bambino, Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto #2, Generique by Miles Davis, Mozart Recomposed during the Starry Night sequence, Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood by Nina Simone, and Brahms Concerto #2 in B Flat, to name a few. The space, the music, the video….perfect. I literally felt like I was in the paintings. I told everyone I knew that was going to Paris that it was a “must-see” and at 14 euro ($16) a ticket a great value.
Recently, when I started seeing Van Gogh experiences advertised in cities across the globe, I encouraged everyone to take the opportunity to see it. One thing that shocked me, however, was the ticket prices in the USA, regardless, I still insisted it was a must-see. When my roommate came home one night last week and asked if I saw that a Van Gogh Experience was opening in Warsaw on Friday, I went online that evening and bought a ticket (55 pln or $14) for opening day. Friday arrived and I was excited to be headed to experience Van Gogh again. I had one of the first ticket timeslots for the show.
The first thing I noticed upon entry was a large area, with high ceilings and some large screens placed throughout and hanging from the ceiling. A massive space with some stools randomly scattered about. Seeing photos and videos from various friends in the states who had seen the show, the spaces were very similar. I immediately made comparisons to Paris, which while being a large space, had felt more intimate. Okay, I know I am obsessed with Paris, it has my heart and everything there is perfect. Well, if you know me, you know what I mean. So maybe, just maybe, I am being a bit partial.
So I cleared my thoughts, found a seat ( there were fewer than 20 people in the room), and got ready to be immersed. The images were amazing although I felt like I was watching versus being one with them. The music was, meh. It just didn’t move me or draw me to the stories in the paintings. The show lasted 30 minutes and I didn’t hear Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, which was one of my favorites from the Paris show. Did I miss it? I wanted to sit through it again to see if I was just being a Paris snob. In all honesty, after two viewings, I just didn’t think it was as good. Underwhelmed (is that a word), I took advantage of the beautiful weather and walked a bit before catching a bus to Old Town. I say underwhelmed because I wasn’t disappointed. It was, after all, a beautiful display of many of Van Gogh’s life works. I still encourage everyone to take advantage of the opportunity if you can. What I am disappointed in is what they are charging for tickets in the USA, but that’s all I’m going to say about that subject.
When I got home that evening, I found my photos/videos from The Starry Night in Paris. No, I wasn’t being a Paris snob, the show was better. So, what’s Gogh-ing on? Time to GTS (Google That Shit). Much to my surprise, I made a startling discovery. There are currently four different, yes, you read that correctly, four different shows touring the world, and none are organized by Atelier des Lumieres which was responsible for Van Gogh: The Starry Night in Paris. Probably why I didn’t hear Nina Simone at the Warsaw Exhibition which was called Van Gogh Multi-Sensory Exhibition. The one currently in Cleveland Ohio is Immersive Van Gogh, I believe. Other shows are called; Van Gogh Alive, Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience, and Beyond Van Gogh: An Immersive Experience. Confusing, right? It is no wonder I have heard conflicting stories about this one being different from that one, better than, etc., depending on what city one saw it.
What does all this mean? It means the show I saw in Paris was one of the best exhibitions I have seen. I was underwhelmed in Warsaw but still enjoyed it. I am disappointed in ticket prices in the USA because no matter which show comes around your area, I think it is well worth seeing. I think it would be great for kids to see, but with the cost of tickets, I’m sure there are many who can’t afford to take a family of four.
I think the man who said, “What am I in the eyes of most people — a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person — somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then — even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart. That is my ambition, based less on resentment than on love in spite of everything, based more on a feeling of serenity than on passion. Though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony and music inside me. I see paintings or drawings in the poorest cottages, in the dirtiest corners. And my mind is driven towards these things with an irresistible momentum.”, would be pleased that the world is seeing what he had in his heart.
If anyone is interested, the 3 parts of the Starry Night show in Paris listed above are links to the YouTube videos of the 2019 Exhibition. It is also this exhibition that was featured in an episode of Netflix’s “Emily in Paris”. I have also linked the Spotify soundtrack from the Paris exhibition and I recommend the movie “At Eternity’s Gate”