Saturday, November 24, 2012

Van Gogh

Seventy paintings and drawings by Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh are on display at the Denver Art Museum, and I went to see it on the day after Thanksgiving.

The show is called "Becoming van Gogh," and it is getting a lot of attention here. Tickets are going fast – so fast, you'd think they were for the latest boy band.

Said tickets are time-stamped. Ticketholders must show up at a specified time, and get the hell out by a specified time. We only had about an hour with Vincent and his stuff.

When we arrived, the place was totally crowded. For a few extra guilders you could rent an audio device, which provided additional info as you moved from work to work. We skipped that little feature. I wrongly assumed there would be some kind of handout available – a pamphlet, or some sort of fact sheet.

One of the first works to catch my attention was the drawing at left, Peasant Woman Pitching Wheat or Hay (1885, black chalk on paper). I leaned in to examine a detail: faint, preliminary lines still visible beneath the finished work, made as the artist's hand searched for the proper form.

But as I bent forward to inspect it, a museum employee materialized and asked me to step back. Politely, she said patrons must get no closer than eighteen inches. To illustrate this point, she moved her hand along an imaginary vertical plane a foot and a half before the drawing.

"Can I breathe on it?" I snapped. The drawing was framed and covered in glass. The employee smiled, said "Try not to," and withdrew.

None of the seventy works on display were the really famous ones. No Starry Night, no Road with Cypress and Star, no Self-Portrait with a bandaged ear. Most of those, I guess, are too priceless to be part of some traveling road show.

We did, however, get an old pair of shoes. We got The Weaver. And we got Restaurant de la Sirene a Asnieres.

Van Gogh liked using ordinary people for his models, as in  Sientje Peeling Potatoes (right). As I contemplated Sientje I wondered how accurate was the likeness. Then it occurred to me it didn't matter; that was hardly the point. And I further made a link between that and my own feeble attempts at fiction. The best fiction is drawn from real life, which is truth, but need not be an accurate rendering of reality.

While none of the really famous works were on display, there still were some very well known paintings and drawings, like The Postman Roulin (oil on canvas, 1888) and an early version of The Potato Eaters (lithograph on Japan paper, 1885, left). The Potato Eaters is an old favorite of mine. But the one in the Denver show is not the well-known painting, which is much darker. The order of the figures in this lithograph is reversed from the painting. The woman pouring kaffĂ©, here on the left, is on the right in the painting. And so on.

Anyway, great show. Runs to January. After that, it's kaput; supposedly, Denver is the only stop for "Becoming van Gogh."

No comments:

Post a Comment