Review: Van Gogh Alive, Brighton: profoundly beautiful, profoundly moving
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“The only time I feel alive is when I am painting”, Van Gogh apparently said. See this superb exhibition, and you will see exactly what he meant. Even better, it will make you feel gloriously alive too.
I was expecting this exhibition to be fascinating. But I wasn’t remotely prepared for the huge, almost overwhelming emotional oomph it also delivers: it is not just profoundly beautiful, it is also profoundly moving.
Van Gogh Alive doesn’t just take you inside the paintings, it also takes you inside the man’s mind, the mind of a genius, but a tortured genius. Along the way you will see works from across his career, from the portraits (self and otherwise) to the sunflowers, from the Japanese works to the starry skies. All of it is glorious, all of it displayed as you will never have seen it before. This exhibition advertises itself as immersive, and it genuinely is. In a large hall you are surrounded by the master’s works on multiple canvases. Sometimes a single work is replicated on all the screens around you; mostly different ones. Always it is mesmerising.
The exhibition sets the tone perfectly from the start with boards which are hugely informative while remaining completely unpretentious and completely unpatronising. Even the boards are immersive; this is all about drawing us in, and then as you enter the main hall, the magic starts. The images tell the story all the way through to the shattering gunshot in the fields which ended Van Gogh’s life; and it tells it over and over again on a repeating loop from which you will have to drag yourself away. The longer you stay, inevitably the more you see. We watched it three times through and could easily have watched it a fourth and a fifth. You are unpressured as you enter Van Gogh’s world but he certainly invades yours. A key part of it all is the music, so perfectly matched to the images which are unfurling before your eyes.
Adding to the richness of it all are things Van Gogh said: “I am always doing what I cannot do yet in order to learn how to do it” are words that will stay with you, perhaps the definition of the true artist. “I am seeking, I am striving, I am in it with all my heart” – words which define the passion you sense behind the paintings. But maybe most magical of all are the words “Be clearly aware of the stars and infinity on high. Then life seems almost enchanted after all.” Stand in this exhibition not just staring at his work, but actually, meaningfully within it, and you will feel that enchantment too.
This exhibition has genuinely, in the words of its promoters, been “hugely anticipated.” How remarkable then that those expectations are so richly surpassed as we digest the reality of it all.
The exhibition is glorious, sumptuous, disturbing at times and yet ultimately heart-warming. The concept is stunning, and it has been stunningly realised – the perfect welcome back for the newly refurbished Grade I and II listed Corn Exchange and Studio Theatre in Brighton Dome where it will remain until September 3. To buy tickets and learn more about the experience, visit the Van Gogh Alive website: https://vangoghaliveuk.com/brighton/ In recognition of the artist’s personal struggles with mental illness, Van Gogh Alive’s chosen charity partner is Mind Brighton & Hove who will receive free tickets and fundraising support throughout the run.