Vincent Van Gogh: Still crazy, but relevant, after all these years

I first fell in love with Vincent van Gogh after reading Irving Stone’s biography of the troubled artist, Lust for Life, as a teenager. Fast forward to multiple viewings of his original works at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the Jeu de Paume then the Museé d’Orsay in Paris, and pretty much any exhibit I could find in the States, and I knew I was hooked.

But my love affair with Vincent took on new meaning as I viewed the extraordinary immersive experience of his work that’s traveled the world this past year. Mild electronica music flows as the paintings shimmy along the floor and up the wall, freeze in place, then evaporate into the next delightful piece. Amid this multi-sensory explosion of more than 30 of his paintings, I felt like I was inside Vincent’s frenzied mind, then inside the work itself.

So, why write about a painter who’s been dead for 131 years? My prediction for 2022 is that as we continue emerge from the pandemic, we will crave the opportunity to view, engage with and otherwise enjoy works of art from pretty much anyone. That means street art, budding sculptors, performance artists, visits to large and local museums, and, of course, absorbing the acknowledged masters.

Yes, we initially headed to the beaches of Hawaii, the wonders of Wyoming and lakeshores of Michigan when we finally “got out” of lockdown, but I believe after 18 months of being stuck celebrating art and culture via Zoom, we’re ready to venture out, and in new ways.

Immersive experiences will dominate, as younger audiences celebrate the sight-and-sound technology that eclipses their stare-at-the-wall museum experiences. And it’s not just fine art that is engaging viewers of all ages: Architecture lives and breathes in Medusa, the immersive headline event of this year’s London Design Festival. Viewers simultaneously don mixed reality headsets at the Victoria and Albert Museum and “marvel upwards as digital structures emerge then retract like stalactites from the ceiling of a cave, albeit with the orderliness of a set of church organ pipes.” Attendees say it’s like stepping inside a silent waterfall.

Visitors to California will flock to internationally acclaimed artist Bruce Monroe’s “Field of Light” in California’s wine country, where they enjoy “colorful 6-foot-tall towers composed of more than 17,000 wine bottles, illuminated with glowing optic fibers whose colors morph to a moving musical score.”

The performing arts get a touch of the immersive experience with acts like the Khmer Arts Academy in Long Beach preserving Cambodian culture through audience-inclusive dance performances. And, many major cities now feature sold-out walking tours of local muralists’ and graffiti artists’ works.

In a recent USA Today arts and culture supplement, USC Annenberg’s own Laura Castaneda posits that diversity will be on display throughout the country as visitors of color gravitate to exhibits about their own cultures at ethnic locales like Los Angeles’ Japanese American Museum or the Smithsonian’s LatinX art collection.

So, while my beloved Vincent himself won’t necessarily be relevant in 2022, his and other artists’ achievements will delight participants of all ages. (And I will be cheating on him as soon as Claude Monet: The Immersive Experience arrives in town!)