Review: ‘Van Gogh Alive — The Experience’

‘Van Gogh Alive’ is a ‘multimedia exhibition experience’ that offers a fresh take on the Dutch master’s work. (AFP)
Updated 14 March 2018
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Review: ‘Van Gogh Alive — The Experience’

DUBAI: Is this the future of touring blockbuster art exhibitions? That’s the question that springs to mind strolling through the perplexing “multimedia exhibition experience” of “Van Gogh Alive” — which runs until April 23 at Dubai Design District, presenting precisely zero original works by the Dutch master often touted as the greatest painter of all time.
Instead, viewers inhabit an immersive space — walls, floor and ceiling alike dizzyingly splashed with swirling, cropped images of Van Gogh’s works, clumsily phased together like an early Windows screensaver. In total, 3,000 different images flicker from 40 projectors, revolving in a half-hour suite of biographical chapters, set to patronizing mood muzak and punctuated with tortured quotes drawn from the great artist’s letters.
The most haunting moments morph Van Gogh’s harrowed self-portraits eerily into one another — the same deadened, listless eyes glaring out at the viewer from all angles.
The tech has been on tour since 2011, with stops already clocked in 35 cities on four continents, and in places it feels tired.
When I caught “Van Gogh Alive” in Lisbon last summer, silhouetted figures practiced artful tai-chi poses in front of the churning mass of pictures. I presume they were paid to do so, but remain uncertain, as any reaction to this bewildering “experience” was welcome: Hardened gallery goers paced the space with a studied scowl, while families sprawled out on beanbags and at least three paying guests appeared to be taking a nap.
There is, of course, a wider argument to be had about art and appropriation. Fragmenting and gutting Van Gogh’s work and intent in this manner instinctively feels sacrilegious: Should those famous sunflowers really rustle in the digital breeze? Should that windmill actually be seen to turn?
Yet watching kids frolic merrily in front of those iconic images underlines how accessible “Van Gogh Alive” makes his art, while the narrative arc offers audiences either a welcome refresher on, or an introduction to, Van Gogh’s extraordinary talent.


Carpet Diem: Notes on a cultural icon

‘The World’s Ugliest Carpet.' (Shutterstock)
Updated 18 February 2019
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Carpet Diem: Notes on a cultural icon

DUBAI: Five things we learned at Carpet Oasis, the annual festival in Dubai.

The biggest carpet on the planet

No surprise that the world’s largest carpet was created in Iran — Persian rugs are widely regarded as the global benchmark for excellence. No surprise either that it’s installed at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in the UAE — a country with a hunger for breaking ‘world’s biggest …’ records that is probably record in itself. The big rug’s dominant color is green (Sheikh Zayed’s favorite, apparently, and — handily — the color generally associated with Islam). It consists of 2.2 billion hand-tied knots and 38 tons of cotton and wool, and was constructed by a team of 3,000 workers.

The most expensive carpet ever sold

In 2013, an anonymous buyer — believed to be from the Middle East — paid $33.8 million for this sickle-leaf carpet, believed to have been created in the early 17th century in Persia. The price was completely unexpected. Sotheby’s, the auction house, had estimated a sale of around $7 million for the relatively small (2.67 by 1.96 meters) ‘vase-techinque’ carpet from the William A. Clark Collection. But the phone buyer refused to concede, sending the price spiralling to more than three times the previous record.

The oldest carpet known to man

This Russian pile carpet survived from, at least, the 4th century BCE until it was discovered well over 2000 years later in the tomb of a Siberian prince. Who clearly didn’t have cats. As was customary at the time, the prince was buried with his most treasured possessions, the majority of which were stolen by grave robbers at some point over two millennia. But the hole they left behind allowed snow to pile up inside, helping to preserve the carpet until the tomb was found again in 1948. The carpet is now in the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.

The alpha-carpet

Described at Carpet Oasis as ‘The World’s Most Famous Carpet’ — which is tricky to verify given most people can’t name a carpet besides “my living room one” — the Ardabil Carpet is actually one of a pair of silk-and-wool Persian rugs currently belonging to London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. They were created in the mid-16th century and come with an inscription from the work of Persian poet Hafiz Shirazi and the central design is based on the interior of the dome of the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque in Isfahan.

The eyesore

Billed as ‘The World’s Ugliest Carpet’ — a claim that would surely be hotly contested by anyone growing up in the West in the Seventies — this monstrosity from Portland Airport in Oregon, USA has become something of an ironic hipster icon, its hideous pattern (based on the airport’s runways) and color scheme replicated on socks, hats and bicycle helmets. The carpet has its own website and social media accounts (yes, it’s more popular than you…) When the airport announced it was going to be replaced, online outrage ensued, and it was recycled into wall hangings and door mats. Rest easy though, its replacement is almost equally aesthetically offensive.