Enveloped by 'Beyond Van Gogh' 

click to enlarge The immersive art exhibition "Beyond Van Gogh" is on view at The Dome Arena in Henrietta from Feb. 4 through March 20. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • The immersive art exhibition "Beyond Van Gogh" is on view at The Dome Arena in Henrietta from Feb. 4 through March 20.
Here was the big question for retired RIT professor Roy Berns, as he visited the “Beyond Van Gogh” exhibit last summer: Would this exhibit — housed in a giant, circus-like tent in a Buffalo mall parking lot — be a little corny? A carnival ride through the work of one of the major artists of the 19th century?

“I was wondering if I would be kind of jaded about it,” Bern says. “Like, ‘Oh, you should see the real paintings, blah, blah, blah.’

“But no, I thought it was a great way to have people experience his art. And maybe with the world being so internet and animation driven, this would draw in people.”
Here in Rochester, you can see one of Van Gogh’s actual prints at the Memorial Art Gallery: an 1890 etching, “Portrait of Dr. Gachet.”
click to enlarge PHOTO PROVIDED
But when “Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience” opens Feb. 4 at the Dome Arena in Henrietta, it will be a different kind of Van Gogh experience. Huge walls of projected color, with some of the works in his immediately recognizable style disassembled to demonstrate how Van Gogh created them.

There are also interesting, computer-generated graphics, such as petals falling from a flowering tree, that go beyond Van Gogh.

Bern, who lives in Pittsford, held a title at Rochester Institute of Technology that would stress out any business card: the Richard S. Hunter Professor of Color Science, Appearance, and Technology. He recognizes the lesser-known, more-traditional, early works of Van Gogh that are presented in the exhibit. Yet Bern also sees “Beyond Van Gogh” shedding new light on the familiar.

“I knew ‘Starry Night’ would be kind of a big thing,” he says of Van Gogh’s best-known painting, “because it has so much movement in the painting.”

Indeed, the piece works perfectly in this setting. We see that movement, with huge whorls of thick brush strokes seemingly caught in the gravitational pull of the stars.

“Beyond Van Gogh” demonstrates the artist’s departure from the traditional dark palette of his fellow Dutch contemporaries.

“When he moved to Paris and started hanging out with some of the Impressionists, that’s where he threw away the use of black,” Bern says. “So he stopped using black, and that’s where his palette started to get so much more vibrant.”

Bern agrees that not every artist fits this format of exploding light and imagery. Norman Rockwell, no. But the paint-splash abstraction of Jackson Pollock, yes. And “Beyond Monet,” a similar exploration of the French Impressionist, has already opened in Toronto, and will be touring the United States this year.
click to enlarge PHOTO PROVIDED
Some visitors to the Buffalo exhibit, Bern says, went through it like they were eating from a bag of potato chips. Others, he says, took their time, “really trying to soak it in.” Listening to the calming, New Age music, and allowing themselves to be drawn into Van Gogh’s world. Immersed in the immersive experience.

“I kept going to different parts of the space and just sitting on one of those benches,” Bern says. “And just experiencing it.”

“Beyond Van Gogh” runs through March 20 at the Dome Arena. For  information and tickets, go to vangoghrochester.com.

Jeff Spevak is WXXI’s Arts & Life editor and reporter. He can be reached at [email protected].
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