'Van Gogh Alive' exhibit
Bonifacio Art Foundation Inc./Released
Should I Gogh? Is the 'Van Gogh Alive' exhibit in Manila worth seeing?
Ratziel San Juan (Philstar.com) - October 28, 2019 - 12:01pm

MANILA, Philippines — The number one question on everyone’s minds is if the Van Gogh Alive experience is worth the P750 entrance fee (P450 for children and students).

Dubbed the “most visited multi-sensory experience in the world,” the exhibit will run in One Bonifacio High Street in BGC, Taguig City only until December 8.

If you’re dying to Gogh but is still not convinced if it’s worth your time and hard-earned money, we’ve provided an in-depth walk through to help you make your decision.

‘Loving Vincent’

Despite online debates on gatekeeping art and viewer etiquette, there is something for all audiences to enjoy at the exhibit.

Even visitors with casual or little appreciation for painting can walk out with introductory knowledge of the artist’s techniques and history. All without leaving bored.

This is not immediately apparent when you walk into the first of two rooms in the exhibit. Past the entrance is what seems to be your average four-walls-and-a-roof museum setting, interrupted only by a couple of panels that are either colored or contain a pull-out quote from one of Vincent’s letters.

The gallery contains a curation of Van Gogh’s works chosen to represent a particular time in his life. While viewers might feel tempted to enter the multi-sensory room from the get-go, the experience is better appreciated studying the accompanying text of each painting in the first room. 

Reading on Van Gogh’s personal history allows you to understand the motivations and decisions behind each painting as if creating a temporary emphatic link with the artist himself.

An obvious photo opportunity, however, does present itself in the life-sized construction of “Vincent’s Bedroom in Arles” near the entrance, sticking out like a sore thumb in what would otherwise be an ordinary room with extraordinary paintings.

Amid other popular works like his self-portrait and "The Starry Night," it was a tasteful choice to introduce visitors to the Dutch artist’s world through Vincent’s Bedroom. It’s no coincidence that the painting it was based on is a personal favorite of Van Gogh and is widely known as a rebellion against conventions of realism, distorting perspective and color. 

Part of the art

The main attraction of the Alive experience remains the sprawling audiovisual spectacle in the second room of the exhibit.

Audiences are greeted by a maze of screens enveloped by high-definition projectors in every direction. But what really sells the illusion is the “cinema-quality” digital surround sound reverberating on every surface and seemingly magnifying the exhibit.

A roughly 45-minute presentation consisting of words, images, oil animation, motion graphics and quotes from letters tell the story of Van Gogh’s journey as a painter. Each screen also varies in content and sequence, offering a live variety that can both adorn and overwhelm.

The accompanying playlist ranges from Antonio Vivaldi’s upbeat “Le quattro stagioni” to Franz Liszt’s sullen “Nuages gris,” as if to elucidate Van Gogh’s emotional direction from happier times in Paris and Arles to his punishing moments in Saint-Rémy and Auver-sur-Oise.

While visitors can enter the multi-channel room any time during the hour and a half allotted, it’s worth noting that the presentation is in chronological format. It opens and closes with a series of Vincent’s self-portraits and traverses through – in order – The Netherlands, Paris, Arles, Saint-Rémy and Auver-sur-Oise.

Apart from paying attention to the story that unfolds in the room, the social-media-savvy crowd can also sneak a few selfies or even a whole photoshoot without disturbing their fellow audience due to the sheer number of screens present.

The experience, of course, is designed to be immersive and allows you to be infused in Van Gogh’s moving liquid oil paintings.

A Gogh or a no?

Needless to say, the exhibit delivers every expectation. It is unrivaled in terms of substance and consistency, able to make Vincent’s life and works, maybe even art in general, palatable to today’s audience in a way that books, articles, and documentaries can only hope to match.

It comes as no surprise that Van Gogh Alive is the brainchild of the Bonifacio Art Foundation Incorporated (BAFI), a non-stock, non-profit organization that also birthed the Mind Museum, the BGC Arts Center, and the BGC public art program.

“Van Gogh Alive is not Van Gogh gaining new relevance 150 years later, but the same genius up close and personal, navigating your soul in the language of nuanced light – from tender to cobalt blues, reticent creams to raging yellows, with the musical genius of Bach, Schubert, Vivaldi, among others,” BAFI Managing Director-Curator Maria Isabel Garcia said.

A mental health discussion, art lecture, and audiovisual feast rolled into one, Van Gogh Alive comes closest to meeting and listening to the man himself.

The experience comes at a steep P750, but it’s a memory guaranteed to stay with you. Days after the exhibit, you’ll find yourself wondering how Van Gogh was able to see and reimagine all the beauty in the world, only to live with all its emptiness.

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