On September 30, 2021, St. Louis Mom invited their contributing writers and one guest to attend the Beyond Van Gogh St. Louis preview night. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend with my mother, who is a lover of art in all its many forms. She also happens to have macular degeneration. This causes loss in the center field of your vision. She has kept it largely under control, but her condition can make it more challenging to enjoy things she once did, like taking in art or reading a good book. I was thrilled to be able to share this with her because I knew the sheer scope, size, and 360-degree immersion into the visuals would be quite enjoyable for her.
When you enter the first room, there are a series of large, backlit slides. They take you on a timeline of Vincent Van Gogh’s life and struggles through letters he exchanged with his brother. You can easily read them and learn about his journey from struggling art dealer, to seminary student, to becoming a pastor, and finally discovering his love for color theory and painting.
You also get a brief synopsis about his struggle with mental illness. Personally, I can lose interest at museums when it is hours of reading. I appreciated getting a quick history lesson without having to read too much. My mom was thrilled with how easy it was for her to see the passages. It is presented quite beautifully, and you already feel “immersed” before you even enter the actual exhibit. I will also note it is a very family-friendly environment. You could easily read through everything with your child, if they are interested, or move past this room quickly and on to the Waterfall Room for children and parents who are not as interested in the history.
Next up is the Waterfall Room. It is tempting to rush past this part of the experience because you are just a few steps away from the main event, but my mom and I chose to fully take it in, standing in the center of it until we knew we had watched the entire loop. Snippets of familiar images from Van Gogh’s paintings melt down the wall, around the doorway, and onto the floor. You can see images of his self-portraits woven into and among the abstract pieces, sometimes more hidden than others.
Finally, you enter a quite spacious open area for the grand finale. The full experience is on a 30-minute loop. I appreciated the staff standing at each doorway to tell you what was next and what to expect. I was glad to know the full length so I could be sure to see it all the way through. From his portraits, into his florals, onto his landscapes, self-portraits, still life, and finally, closing it out with arguably his most popular work, Starry Night, the experience, quite simply, took our breath away. You can sit or move about the room. It seems as if it doesn’t matter where you stand. From every view, you feel like you get to see all of it while also experiencing something very personal, almost as if only you see it this way because you’re there, in that spot, in that moment in time.
It is such a beautiful marriage of classic art with modern technology. My mom and I discussed what Vincent would think about it if he could see it. It also made me contemplate mental illness and how far we have come in diagnosing and treating it now. What would Van Gogh’s life have been like had he had access to the resources that are available now? Would the world then be left without his art? Is that a good or a bad thing? And finally, how technology has become art, and because of this, my mother could experience and enjoy visual art in a way she maybe never would be able to again. I will always remember sharing this evening with her. It was truly special.
The Starry Night Tent is in the Macy’s parking lot at the Galleria at 40 and Brentwood. You can’t miss it. Beyond Van Gogh, St. Louis runs October 1 – November 21. You can purchase tickets at www.beyondvangoghstlouis.com.