Kicking off a preview of the new Immersive Van Gogh Charlotte exhibit, the walls inside Camp North End’s Ford Building come alive with the scene of a woman walking among flowers, then transitions into a bright yellow wheat field. Black crows appear to fly through the field, foreshadowing a darkness that will soon fall over the walls, bringing on images of a brick building that signals the viewers’ arrival in a 19th-century alley.
The exhibit throws viewers into the work of Vincent Van Gogh, covering a wide range of his post-impressionist work and giving a glimpse into his mind that perhaps can’t be experienced by a simple viewing of his paintings. According to the project’s producer, Svetlana Dvorestky, the pulsing back-and-forth from bright to dark was a purposeful technique by Massimiliano Siccari, the exhibit’s creator along with Luca Longobardi, who made the soundtrack.
“Massimiliano had a very clear concept,” Dvorestky said before Thursday’s preview. “What we see is what Vincent saw before he died. That’s why it’s going from dark to very bright to dark and ends with a meditative sight. That’s why this particular group of artists is very different, because they’re masters of creating the sensoric and emotional experience.”
The 76,154-square-foot exhibit, made up of 500,000 cubic feet of projections, will certainly evoke a response, and local organizers are hoping it will also inspire engagement with Charlotte’s own art scene.
Though Dvorestky’s Show One Productions and the company they partnered with to create Immersive Van Gogh, Starvox Entertainment, are both based in Canada, they’ve also partnered with Blumenthal Arts here in Charlotte to bring the exhibit to Camp North End. That’s where Blumenthal’s new director of artistic experiences Bree Stallings comes in.
Charlotte artists get involved
Charlotte is just the fifth American city to host the Immersive Van Gogh, and Stallings has worked effortlessly in recent months to amplify the impact of this world-renowned exhibit on the local art scene.
Just two weeks ago, Blumenthal announced that one local artist would carry out a paid residency on site at the exhibit, but on Tuesday, Blumenthal CEO Tom Gabbard announced that two artists would be chosen from the nearly 100 applications his organization received.
Beyond that, Stallings has brought on 19 local artists to showcase their work in the sprawling space around the exhibit. The artists will install sculptures, murals, photo opportunities and a number of other creative projects throughout the space.
Stallings pointed out that, though Immersive Van Gogh tickets run $40 for adults and $25 for kids, it’s free to come check out the local artists who will be on display surrounding the exhibit.
“If you want to come and eat lunch or do some work, you can come and enjoy the bar area, buy some merch — you don’t need any ticket to come into this space that we’re making,” she told Queen City Nerve on Thursday.
Brought on to her new position in March, Stallings said she’s been happy to use the pull of an institution like Blumenthal to spread opportunities throughout the local arts scene. She spoke about what the position means to her on Thursday after the preview tour.
“Even just now inside [the exhibit] I started to get emotional about it because I love Charlotte,” she said. “Simply put, I love Charlotte. One of my passions is creating opportunities for artists. I don’t believe in the starving artist myths. I think there’s enough sunshine for all of us, we just need to learn how to leverage our skills with the people who are interested in them.
“So it’s been really cool because they’ve never done this level of local artist engagement with the external exhibition area, with the merch and the boutique sales, with the artists-in-residence. Basically I was given permission that, if I could pull it off, I could do it. So I like a challenge.”
Thursday’s preview was a first trip through the space since the projections have begun to run for Varian Shrum, community manager for Camp North End. She said she was relieved to be viewing arts in action after a year of working from home.
“This is a huge moment for the Camp North End project, of course, but really a significant moment for Charlotte’s evolution as a cultural destination,” she told the group of media members and organizers.
‘Vincent as a man’
Dvorestky said she first met Massimiliano, whom she calls “the Moses of multimedia immersive art,” two years ago. The Italian artist was working as a professor of Multimedia and Digital Arts at the University of Rome, as he still does. He had created a similar project to Immersive Van Gogh in the past, but not quite in the way he had envisioned.
Massimiliano and Longobardi rose to recognition while creating several other immersive multimedia exhibits in France after Massimiliano’s first try at Van Gogh, but he always had a desire to return to the post-impressionist icon.
“He said, ‘Let me create the Van Gogh that I’ve been thinking about all my life but didn’t get the chance to do yet,’” Dvorestky recalled of their meeting. “It is based on his studies and his dive into Van Gogh and Van Gogh’s art. He wanted to introduce us to Vincent as a man, with all his dark sides and very difficult and very challenging life that he was going through. He wanted to show us that violent beauty that Van Gogh was saying that he’s painting — that violent beauty of life.
“That’s why this specific work is not chronological,” she continued. “It’s not highlights, that we’ll show you ‘Starry Night,’ we’ll show you ‘Sunflowers,’ and you go home. This is really a work of reflection.”
The installation will aim to reflect on “Van Gogh as a man,” and how some of the darker aspects of his personality show in his work. “We won’t just show you Starry Night and show you Sunflowers and send you home.” A video preview: pic.twitter.com/NXiPeTcI0N
— Queen City Nerve (@queencitynerve) June 3, 2021
Dvorestky said she flew to Charlotte from New York, where another Immersive Van Gogh exhibit is set to open on June 10. She expressed regret that she had told press there that the New York exhibit, installed at Pier 36 NYC, was the world’s biggest.
“It was wrong,” she said, laughing. “Charlotte is the largest installation that is going to be presented in North America.”
What most fascinated Dvorestky about Charlotte’s exhibit was the layout, which is cut into blocks that can feel like separate rooms despite being all part of one open space.
“What was interesting to me personally is the shape of this gallery. I think they’ve done a very, very interesting work,” she said. “It’s all about reflections, it’s all about how it’s going to play on your emotions and how you’re going to see it, but I think there was a lot of thought put behind this particular shape which will be very impactful.”
Having toured the world with the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit, Dvorestky expects many in Charlotte will have similar emotional experiences to Stallings, and not because they’ve put so much work into its launch.
“It’s very interesting to see how the audience reacts,” Dvorestky said. “We have seen people cry, laugh, dance, lay out on the floor — even with their eyes closed but just being immersed in what’s happening around them, going through their thoughts. That’s the ultimate goal of any art form is to inspire people, to reawaken their emotions and make them think and be better people at the end of the day.”
Immersive Van Gogh Charlotte opens on June 17 and will run through Sept. 12. You can shop for tickets at the website.
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