By Courtney Drake-McDonough
Lest you think you’ll catch this show when it makes its way around to your neck of the woods, it won’t. “Becoming Van Gogh” is a unique show, assembled from museums and private collections all over the world. The Denver Art Museum (www.denverartmuseum.org) is the only venue in the world for this exhibition. It is not travelling anywhere, nor will this particular collection of artworks most likely ever be shown together again. Have I convinced you yet that it’s worth a journey to colorful Colorado to see this show? If not, let me tempt you further.
The exhibit is called “Becoming Van Gogh” because it is about the journey Van Gogh took to become the artist he was when he died, far too young at 37. His health (mental and physical) and tragic death are mentioned minimally in exhibition labels and in the audio tour, only there to set a tone and not to define him.
Instead, the exhibit follows Van Gogh from his very early days as an artist in the Netherlands after having tried four other careers as an evangelical preacher, a teacher, theology student and art clerk, to his time in France. Along the way, he moves from the dark, heavy-handed work inspired by the old masters, to a fascination with Japanese art that encouraged a different style, to the hesitant discovery of color and styles of other artists that really awakened him. Imagine Van Gogh coming from a time when color in art was seen as frivolous and then allowing himself to open up to its possibilities.
In the very first room, without a single actual painting in site, Van Gogh’s own words and select paintings appear and disappear, projected on a slanted wall. You see his early hesitations, determination to really make a go of this painting thing and then the joy that comes from unleashing his talents. You know right then and there that this man went through a real transformation and you are eager to follow his path. You are to think of the exhibit as a book with a forward - this opening room, and seven chapters. Each chapter shows Van Gogh simultaneously working diligently and purposefully at being an artist but also emotionally moved and inspired by the scenery, artists, artwork and vibe he discovered in France. The Denver Art Museum worked magic with the lighting to bring out the burgeoning illumination of Van Gogh’s artwork as he discovers gorgeous reds, pinks, blues, greens and yellows.
You won’t catch a glimpse of Van Gogh’s face via his self-portraits until the end of the exhibit. Whereas most exhibits introduce you to the artist at the start, Van Gogh’s self-portraits are deliberately put at the end to enable the visitor to look at Van Gogh first as an artist and technician without having the person’s image in the back of your mind. Standing face to face with Van Gogh at the end of the exhibit is intended to let you have your own, private moment with him, having travelled his path.
The Denver Art Museum isn’t the only place a-buzz with excitement over the “Becoming Van Gogh” exhibit. The whole city is sharing the love with visitors. Nine hotels have special “Becoming Van Gogh” packages with lodging deals, “skip the line” museum ticket packages and Van Gogh-inspired treats and amenities. A special website has been set up specifically for all of the deals, www.VanGoghDenver.com.
Since the exhibit runs through the holiday season, also check www.MileHighHolidays.com for additional activities and deals that incorporate the exhibit with holiday happenings from a city is very serious about its festivities. Make a whole vacation out of it at one destination, seeing as how you’re saving all that globetrotting.
Courtney Drake-McDonough is a Denver-based travel writer. Her blog www.InGoodTasteDenver.com offers news and reviews of travel destinations, restaurants, movies, theater and events.
Photo cutlines and credits:
1. Vincent van Gogh, A Pair of Boots, 1887. Oil on canvas. Private collection, courtesy of Eykyn Maclean.
2. Vincent van Gogh, The Courtesan (after Eisen), 1887. Oil on canvas. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.
3. Vincent van Gogh, Wheatfield with Sheaves (Le Champ de Blé), 1888. Oil on canvas. Honolulu Museum of Art, gift of Mrs. Richard A. Cooke and Family in memory of Richard A. Cooke.
4. Vincent van Gogh, Self Portrait with Grey Felt Hat, 1887. Oil on cardboard. Collection Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Gift of F.W.M., Baroness Bonger-van der Borch van Verwolde, Almen.
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