The Arizona Science Center in Phoenix is the first venue in North America to host a touring exhibition titled “Van Gogh Alive,” which was created by Grande Exhibitions in Australia. Two members of the Australia group were on hand for its opening, which presented some challenges because everything was designed for 220 volts rather than 100 volts.
The exhibition materials arrived in just two trucks, according to Janice Dell of the Arizona Science Center. Seems the recent pirate-theme exhibition required 40. So there’s much to love about the exhibit before you even see it. It’s got a smaller environmental footprint than most, so proponents of all things green can rejoice.
Though some have been surprised to learn that the Arizona Science Center is hosting an exhibition focused primarily on art, Dell hails the historical connection between art and science. There’s plenty of evidence, including the work of Leonardo DaVinci, to support her observation that fields like art and math are fundamentally intertwined.
“Van Gogh Alive” demonstrates that art, music and language are similarly connected. Visitors to the exhibition enter a pitch black entryway that opens onto a vast space full of giant panels awash with Van Gogh’s works, a lone black wall with rotating quotes and musical selections from Van Gogh’s own period in history. Images also scroll over several groupings of large platforms on the ground.
Several people were experiencing the exhibition during my visit, and it seemed they all had a different way of approaching it. I focused on Van Gogh’s quotes — on everything from nature and friendship to colors and poetry — glancing all around me as related images scrolled over giant screens on nearby walls, columns and platforms. Self-portraits. Famous and lesser known paintings. Handwritten letters. Simple and sophisticated sketches. Photos from the time.
Others seemed more gripped by the images, or music and sound. Dell notes that the music is meant to mirror Van Gogh’s changing moods. It shifts throughout from light and airy to somber. Sometimes with a slow, consistent tempo — other times with a fast, irregular pace. Even those not well versed in classical music will find familiarity in much of what they hear.
While museums have been trending for many years towards featuring more interactive exhibits, Dell notes that this type of exhibition takes the museum experience to a whole new level through “immersion.” It’s plenty effective. After spending time with “Van Gogh Alive,” I began to feel a part of his world. I know Van Gogh, the artist and the man, better for having seen it.
I suspect that children will be as wowed by the technology used in the exhibition as they are by the works of art. It’s all good, and we’ll all be seeing more of it as museums continue to finesse the fine art of adapting new tools to showcase classic and contemporary works.
Parents hoping to bring out the artist in their child should remember that Van Gogh didn’t paint with real passion until well into adulthood. His first loves as a child and teen were spending time in nature, and losing himself in books. Tell them the story of Van Gogh before you go, and make art materials available if they run home inspired to create their own works.
But remember that artists blossom in different seasons. Not all will show an early interest or affinity for drawing or painting. But all can benefit from learning to approach the world with genuine curiosity, an open mind and keen powers of observation. Make time and space in your child’s world for moments of serendipity and spontaneity. That’s the best way to bring art alive.
Note: The Arizona Science Center is holding a “Van Gogh Valentine’s Soiree” (Tues, Feb. 14, 6-10pm) for singles and couples that includes time with the “Van Gogh Alive” exhibition, planetarium star shows, a romantic selection of treats and more. Call 602-716-2028 to learn more or make your reservations for this event at firstname.lastname@example.org. And remember the Arizona Science Center gift shop for Valentine’s Day gifts for the kiddos.
Coming up: To protect and preserve