Van Gogh


Catherine Smith

Art historian or connoisseur I am not. My art knowledge is higgledy-piggledy, occasionally garnered from “White Collar” sitcom character Neal Caffrey — a dashing art thief turned FBI advisor. Rubens, Rembrandt, Monet, and Van Gogh are names I appreciate but don’t know intimately. That changed last week when I experienced “Van Gogh ALIVE,” a traveling exhibition at the Arizona Science Center.

This multisensory combination of art, music, and technology features more than 3,000 high-definition images of Vincent Van Gogh’s work, projected on floor-to-ceiling screens by 40 radio-controlled projectors. Van Gogh was a Dutch post-Impressionist painter whose work paved the way for modern art. His brilliant strokes of gold, blue, green, and red coalesce with a moving classical score in this 30-minute display to tell the story of his aggrieved life and luminous talent. The images span the 10-year period, 1880-1890, when Van Gogh produced the majority of his work.

The exhibit’s story is composed in sequenced chapters and begins in the Netherlands with his early work characterized by people and landscapes in dark, subdued tones. It then transitions to Van Gogh’s life in France, where he was impacted by the Impressionist movement and experienced a period of happy optimism. Visitors are engulfed by his iconic sunflowers, gardens, and fruit bowls in hues of bright orange, green, and yellow. Van Gogh’s descent into mental illness follows, with his stay at the Saint-Rémy asylum, where he painted the awe-inspiring “Starry Night” series as a moving testimony of the hope he held to tightly.

Interspersed among the images are quotes from Van Gogh’s prolific letter collection. “Poetry surrounds us everywhere,” the anguished artist wrote, “but putting it on paper is, alas, not so easy as looking at it.”

Looking at Van Gogh’s visual poetry in “Van Gogh ALIVE” and being immersed in his life story gives visitors — even those without artistic knowledge like me — a palpable sense of his divine talent and torment.

With carefully placed benches for sitting and absorbing the story, the exhibit is an ideal date destination. Children 12 and younger may not appreciate the full magnificence of the display, but exposing them to the collection could ignite a lifelong passion.

The Science Center’s monthly Adults’ Night Out from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Friday, March 9, April 6, May 4, or June 8 is a great opportunity for date night with your sweetie. “Van Gogh ALIVE” admission is $11, and includes access to the entire museum. This is an event for 18 and older only.

• Contact writer: or (480) 898-5629

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