Mon | Apr 6, 2020

Art and Culture in Paris

Published:Sunday | November 24, 2019 | 12:32 AM
Beaux Arts Editions Van Gogh La Nuit Etoilee

An immersive sensory experience of art unlike anything you’ve encountered before is the latest innovation in the art world. On October 1 in Paris, I visited Atelier des Lumières, or the Studio of Lights, a digital art museum which features the work of Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh in an awe-inspiring exhibition entitled The Starry Night (1889), after one of his most famous paintings. Gianfranco Iannuzzi, Renato Gatto and Massimiliano Siccardi spent an entire year selecting 500 from among the 2,100 works created by Van Gogh.

His short ten-year artistic career ended with his death by suicide in 1890. The three creators of this sensory experience researched each painting, wrote a storyboard, composed video sequences, and then selected music to accompany the mood of the varying artworks. You step into what is essentially a vast darkened warehouse with high ceilings as 140 machines project moving images on to the floor beneath your feet, the walls surrounding you, the ceilings overhead, all from Van Gogh’s palette of intense colours. Janis Joplin, opera, jazz, blues, classical overtures – as your eyes adjust to the lights, to the moving figures, your consciousness absorbs the music, infusing your emotional response to being inside art you normally only see hanging on a wall or pictured in a book.

I learnt about this incredible place through a Canadian friend living in France who sent me the Beaux Arts Editions issue dedicated to this exhibition. I hadn’t realised that at age 16 Van Gogh was employed by his uncle’s art dealership and worked in both London and Paris but was repelled at seeing art as a commodity and turned instead to trying to minister to the poor. Having been raised by a strict father, a Protestant pastor, Van Gogh went to live among the poverty-stricken coal miners and peasants of his native land, but this ended abruptly as some perceived his zealousness as a problem. The dark, depressing Potato Eaters painted in 1885, his first real oil painting, reflects that concern with the dreadful human condition of too many.


Avant Garde painters

It was the following year, in 1886, when he moved to Paris, to live with brother Theo in Montmartre, that Van Gogh encountered the avant garde painters Seurat, Pissarro, Toulouse-Lautrec and Gauguin. Van Gogh then developed what became the bold Post-Impressionist style that flourished with his move to the south of France in 1888 and subsequent final year in an asylum under medical care, until his return to spend the last two months in a village near Paris. Today, in Ateliers des Lumières you can be immersed in the colours and images which made Van Gogh a global superstar, even though he sold only one painting in his own lifetime. You’ll recognise images from his most famous works slowly swirling around in the darkened room – sunflowers, iris, almond tree blossoms as well as several of his 43 self-portraits. All are striking but perhaps the most astonishing is to witness black crows actually moving, flying across an entire wall of brilliant yellow wheat against a cobalt sky as in his last painting, Wheatfield With Crows, which he finished just before he shot himself, dying two days later.

The 32-minute homage is followed by a 15-minute digital art exhibition Dreamed Japan of Japanese prints, the Ukiyo-e “pictures of the floating world,” especially by Hokusai and Hiroshige, whose introduction into the French art scene in the 1870s influenced both Impressionists and Van Gogh. A final short piece Verse, exploring man in the universe, completes the hour, then the programme is repeated. When the Atelier first opened in 2018 their exhibition explored the works of Viennese artists, especially renowned Gustav Klimt. When that exhibition ended a million visitors had entered and left in awe. Open daily, Van Gogh La Nuit Etoilée closes January 5, 2020. On February 28 2020, Voyages en Méditerranée with Renoir, Monet, Matisse, Chagall, Derain and Pissarro – pointillisme, impressionism, fauvism – opens until December 31, 2020. You definitely want to experience this sensory immersion into art. And if weather permits, nearby is the famed Pere Lachaise Cemetery, the first garden cemetery in Paris, where celebrities Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Chopin, Modigliani and more are buried in often amazing tombs, making this the most visited non-secular cemetery in the world. I found it fascinating.



A more traditional art exhibition in Paris had crowds flocking to see Degas à l’Opéra at the Musée d’Orsay. Opening on September 24 and closing January 19, 2020, this exhibition celebrates not only the painter who made dancers, musicians and spectators of opera central to his creative work, but it celebrates the 350th anniversary of the opera created under the title Académie d’Opera by King Louis XIV in 1669. Edgar Degas at 36 enjoyed his first success with the painting l’Orchestre de l’Opéra, while Van Gogh died impoverished aged 37. In 1873 Degas founded the Anonymous Society of Artists, Painters and Sculptures with Monet, Pissarro, Sisley, Cezanne and others to exhibit outside of the traditional Salon. Although between 1874 and 1886 Degas exhibited seven times with Impressionist painters and lived at the same time as many of them and Van Gogh, Degas eschewed painting outdoors, preferring intimate rooms, especially at Le Peletier Opera house. Even when that burnt in 1873 and the magnificent Le Palais Garnier Opera house we know today was built in 1875, Degas still depicted interiors of Le Peletier in his paintings of the opera world. An accomplished sculpture in wax, clay and plaster, he exhibited only one during his lifetime. When he died in 1917, aged 83, 150 were discovered in his studio, a number of which were later cast in bronze and some form part of Degas à l’Opéra.

Organised by the Musée d’Orsay, Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris and the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., this exhibition may be more accessible to you when it moves to Washington D.C., opening March 1, 2020, closing July 5, 2020.