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Step Into ‘The Starry Night’ and Other Vincent van Gogh Masterpieces

An upcoming installation at the Newfields museum in Indianapolis will immerse visitors in the Dutch artist’s paintings

Artist's rendering of The Starry Night, as seen in "The Lume" at Newfields (Courtesy of Grande Experiences)
smithsonianmag.com

More than 100 years after Vincent van Gogh created The Starry Night, the painting’s swirls of yellows, blues and browns continue to fascinate, seemingly dancing around one another and making viewers feel as if the sky is enveloping them.

Come next June, an exhibition at the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields will emulate the experience of viewing The Starry Night firsthand by transforming the 1889 work and other van Gogh masterpieces into a “three-dimensional world that guests can explore through all their senses,” according to a statement.

Titled “The Lume,” the permanent installation will use 150 digital projectors to reflect nearly 3,000 images of the Dutch artist’s paintings onto the walls, ceilings and floors of the museum’s fourth-floor galleries. (Spanning 30,000 square feet, the exhibition is the largest in the Indiana museum’s 137-year history.) To add to the immersive experience, classical music will play as visitors make their way through digital versions of Irises (1889), Wheat Field With Cypresses (1889), Sunflowers (1889) and Almond Blossom (1890), among other works.

The upcoming display—created by Australian company Grande Experiences, which was held more than 190 exhibitions and experiences in 145 cities around the world—isn’t the first to reimagine van Gogh’s art for the digital age. Paris’ Atelier des Lumières recently hosted a similarly multisensory exhibition; the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, is set to debut its own iteration of Grande Experiences’ van Gogh display later this month. And this summer, amid the first wave of Covid-19 lockdowns, Toronto even hosted a drive-in sight-and-sound installation dubbed “Gogh in Your Car.”

Interactive art experiences aren’t limited to van Gogh: As Casey Lesser wrote for Artsy in 2018, “experiential art … from immersive exhibitions, like those of Yayoi Kusama, to Instagram-friendly ‘museums,’ like the Museum of Ice Cream,” is especially popular among “experience hungry, selfie-loving millennials.”

Some critics argue that such social media–tailored ventures aren’t actually art. But Newfields’ CEO and director, Charles Venable, disagrees. Instead, he tells artnet News’ Eileen Kinsella, “The Lume” offers the museum an opportunity to showcase “truly great art that we [would] never be able to borrow.”

Newfields plans on redistributing the contemporary art currently housed on its fourth floor to make way for the permanent exhibition—a decision that has sparked controversy among some locals.

“I’m not necessarily opposed to something like ‘The Lume’—or I wouldn’t be, if it didn’t cut off the entire fourth floor where the contemporary art was,” local journalist Dan Grossman tells artnet News. He adds that the installation “starts to challenge the mission of the museum in certain respects.”

Artist's rendering of "The Lume" at Newfields
Artist's rendering of "The Lume" at Newfields (Courtesy of Grande Experiences)

Prior to the new installation’s announcement, a number of observers had already taken issue with Venable’s emphasis on interactive displays such as “Winterlights”—an exhibition of one million Christmas lights—over scholarly programming.

Writing for Bloomberg CityLab in 2017, Kriston Capps noted, “[M]useums are cultural treasuries, not amusement parks. Venable has turned a grand encyclopedic museum into a cheap Midwestern boardwalk.”

Despite these criticisms, Venable stands by “The Lume,” telling artnet News that the show offers museum visitors the opportunity to experience artworks they wouldn’t normally get the chance to see in person.

Referencing a quarter-scale, digital reproduction of the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling featured in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s recent “Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer” exhibition, the director says, “The Met can’t borrow the Sistine ceiling either. But if you have the technology you actually can show people a close-up and personal view of Michelangelo’s greatest masterpiece.”

The Lume will debut at the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields in June 2021.

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