Reviews and Recommendations

Exhibit Review: Van Gogh Alive in Lausanne

By Mariam Kerfai

Vincent van Gogh has left an indelible mark on the world of art. For some, the mere mention of his name brings forth iconic paintings like The Starry Night, Almond Blossoms or Wheatfield with Crows. Others may remember him as that ‘crazy’ artist who cut his own ear. Like most twenty somethings today, van Gogh was unsure about what professional path to take, first dabbling in missionary work and art dealing and then, at age 27, fully pursuing a career as a self-taught artist. We know from his correspondence to family and friends that he suffered from low self-esteem, fear of failure, and declining mental health; the latter, many believe, ultimately led to his premature death by suicide at only 37. During a career that only lasted ten years, from 1880 to 1890, van Gogh produced about 2100 artworks. Although he did not enjoy immense commercial success during his lifetime, today his works are some of the most expensive paintings to have ever sold and are spread out across the world, from Ottawa to Moscow, and each new generation falls in love all over again with his bold and unique way of artistic expression. 

The multimedia exhibit, Van Gogh Alive in Lausanne is, as the title implies, one that invites visitors to immerse themselves in a multisensory experience that explores van Gogh’s ten-year career. When you first enter the hall, you can already hear the airs of Vivaldi, Bach, and Satie. The walls are covered with panels with information about van Gogh, the main exhibition, and highlights of his work. The information is in French and German but there is a QR code you can scan at the entrance (after you’ve checked in) to read the English version. There is also a live version of the painting of his room in Arles, next to its counterparts in painting form. Once you’ve made the tour of the informational panels and print replicas of van Gogh’s paintings, you can enter the main exhibit through a pair of black curtains. People might already be seated (mostly on the floor) but feel free to walk around until you find a good spot to sit and enjoy. 

The main exhibit surveys five significant places – where he created numerous timeless masterpieces, many of which we recognize today – in five movements: The Netherlands, Paris, Arles, Saint-Rémy, and Auvers-sur-Oise. It culminates in a series of self-portraits that were created during this whole period, reflecting his changing emotional state. Unlike a typical art exhibition, Van Gogh Alive uses SENSORY4™, a unique system that combines up to forty high definition projectors with images and sound. The result is a show where light, music, and even perfume (it was hard to smell at times because of my mask!) are synchronized to completely immerse the visitor in the vibrant colors and intense details of van Gogh’s works. You may enter the main exhibit halfway through the show so feel free to wait until it starts over in order to see all of it. Along one of the walls, there is another entrance to a smaller room full of artificial sunflowers and mirrors making it look like you are in an endless field. Sunflowers became synonymous with van Gogh after he chose this specific variety of flower to focus on; they were considered coarse and unrefined by his fellow painters but this is what he liked about them. 

When you finally leave the dark room of the main exhibit, there is a cafe where you can sit and enjoy something to drink, against a backdrop of van Gogh’s Café Terrace at Night. There is also another space for a free art lesson, although I did not try it. The main exhibit space was smaller than I expected, but I really enjoyed the presentation and mix of activities. More than anything, it was a great opportunity to learn more about van Gogh and to witness so many of his works in one place, since the actual pieces are spread out across the world. It was also a chance to reflect on his unique artistic expression: the way he transformed his inner turmoil to create works of art that highlighted beauty, color, and aliveness in the world around him. 

If you are interested, I invite you to experience Van Gogh Alive for yourself before it ends on February 20th. Students can get in by purchasing discounted tickets (CHF24) either online or at the venue; there is no difference in price. Be sure to have your COVID pass, a form of ID, and student ID ready. To get to the location (Beaulieu), you can take a train from Geneva to the Lausanne main station. From there, walk to the “Lausanne-gare” bus stop across the street (or “Villard” bus stop that’s a little further up the hill) and take bus 21 and stop at “Beaulieu.” The exhibit hall and the Beaulieu COVID-19 vaccination center share the same building so be sure to enter the former!

For more information, check out the exhibit’s official website: Van Gogh Alive Lausanne

Photo by Mariam Kerfai

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