Captivating narrative installation explores Vincent van Gogh’s inner life

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Captivating narrative installation explores Vincent van Gogh’s inner life
Van Gogh Dreams, © Maartje Strijbis, Van Gogh Museum.

AMSTERDAM.- From 27 July 2018 to 13 January 2019, the Van Gogh Museum presents Van Gogh Dreams: A journey into his mind, a captivating narrative installation exploring Vincent van Gogh’s inner life. Light, colour and audio combine to create a sensory experience based on Van Gogh’s turbulent time in Arles in the South of France – a period that had a major impact on him both as an artist and as a person. Axel Rüger (Director of the Van Gogh Museum): ‘Blending storytelling with aesthetics, technology and craftsmanship allows us to make Van Gogh’s passion tangible and accessible to a wide audience’.

Van Gogh Dreams is a narrative installation that transports visitors to Van Gogh’s period in Arles (1888-1889). Van Gogh departed Paris and headed to the town in the South of France looking to realise his dream: to create new art alive with light and colour, and establish a community of like-minded artists. The story of this turbulent period is spread across five different areas. As visitors walk through these spaces, they are told the story based on the many letters that Vincent wrote to his brother Theo. The letters show that life in Arles was an emotional rollercoaster for Van Gogh. Van Gogh Dreams immerses visitors in a poignant journey punctuated with tragic loss and extraordinary beauty.

First-hand stories
Van Gogh Dreams begins with Van Gogh’s departure from the frenetic city of Paris in the winter of 1887-1888. The dark and oppressive space reflects how Van Gogh must have felt when he took the decision to follow his dream of working together with other artists in the South to create a new type of art, full of light and colour. He noted of the period: ‘I left Paris very, very upset, quite ill and almost an alcoholic through overdoing it’.

‘The promise of the South’, a summery space featuring 900 hand-made glass sunflowers, makes Van Gogh’s inspiration and hope in Arles tangible. He wrote: ‘Under the blue sky, the orange, yellow, red patches of flowers take on an amazing brilliance, and in the limpid air there’s something happier and more suggestive of love than in the North’. Blissfully happy in his new surroundings, Van Gogh works tirelessly towards realising his dream.

Come autumn, Van Gogh welcomes his friend and fellow artist Paul Gauguin to the Yellow House, where the pair live and work together closely for two months. In the following area, the artistic exchange between the two artists is reflected in details from their works. Visitors also feel the tension between the two men. Van Gogh wrote: ‘Gauguin and I talk a lot … The discussion is excessively electric. We sometimes emerge from it with tired minds, like an electric battery after it’s run down’.

‘… In a painting I’d like to say something consoling, like a piece of music. To express hope through some star’ --Vincent van Gogh

In the run-up to Gauguin’s departure, Van Gogh suffers an episode of his illness and cuts off his ear. A disorienting space with broken mirrors confronts visitors with his confusion, disillusion and despair. Despite everything, Van Gogh finds solace in painting, in the beauty of nature and the promise of infinity. In the final space, packed with light and colour, Van Gogh’s passion is tangible. In this space, the star-filled night sky that Van Gogh so adored is expressed by a sparkling moiré wall. In Van Gogh’s own words: ‘… In a painting I’d like to say something consoling, like a piece of music. … To express hope through some star’.

International design agency
Van Gogh Dreams relays Van Gogh’s story without using actual artworks. It therefore complements a visit to the permanent collection, where the focus is on his paintings. The Van Gogh Museum realised the installation in collaboration with Tellart, an international design agency that effortlessly blends storytelling with aesthetics, technology and craftsmanship. For example, Amsterdam-based glassworks Van Tetterode created 900 unique, hand-made glass flowers, inspired by Van Gogh’s world-famous Sunflowers. The simple, abstracted scenography using light, colour and audio brings visitors extremely close to Van Gogh’s emotions.

Tellart was awarded the 2016 National Design Award by Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum (New York). The design agency previously worked with leading museums including the Science Museum and Victoria & Albert Museum (London), the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Museum of Tomorrow (Rio de Janeiro) and the Museum of the Future (Dubai).

Van Gogh Dreams is open to visitors at the Van Gogh Museum from 27 July 2018 to 13 January 2019. The installation will return for two to three months every summer. Van Gogh Dreams is on display on the first floor of the Exhibition Wing.

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