The re-siting of any foundation within new premises usually comes with a bold statement of intent; an exhibition that is the synthesis of what they wish to achieve. The Foundation Vincent van Gogh in Arles hopes for a marriage between old and new, which starts with the beautiful conversion of a former hotel into the new gallery. Its bright and open spaces treat light as an intrinsic element of how the audience views the exhibitions. The inaugural exhibition, through a series of new commissions and permanent installations alongside the work of van Gogh and his contemporaries, attempts to gauge the essence of painting and colour versus drawing and its impact on contemporary practice.
Van Gogh Live! intertwines two exhibitions. ‘Colours of the North, Colours of the South’ retraces the narrative of light and colour throughout van Gogh’s practice and those who influenced his shift towards a new palette, and ‘Van Gogh Live!’ spirals out from it.
Gary Hume’s subtle coloured walls, on which the ‘Colours’ exhibition is mounted, are a wonderful intervention, softly linking the two exhibitions. Bethan Huws presents vitrines containing tiny boats that have been painstakingly folded out of rushes, mirroring the signature brush strokes from van Gogh’s prolific period in Arles. Guillaume Bruère, going under the alias GIOM, introduces the constructed image of van Gogh’s intensity with his energetic, colourful, performative drawings. The percussionist Fritz Hauser contributes a sensitive sound installation in the stairwell, a series of pen and pencil markings on the walls that drip from the ceiling like raindrops, accompanied by the sound he recorded of each marking echoing through the space.
Thomas Hirschhorn and Camille Henrot take on van Gogh’s fascination with Japanese art. Hirschhorn by immersing the viewer in a sprawling installation of an imagined Japanese woman who has become obsessed with van Gogh. Set-up as a series of popular cultural references and his trademark foil and cardboard, he creates a shrine to van Gogh. Henrot offers a collection of Ikebana, a type of Japanese flower arranging that focuses on the living form of the plant, the lines of its stem or the shape of the leaves, to accentuate the mark making at the base of van Gogh’s practice whilst also referencing his fascination with Japan. Elizabeth Peyton presents suitably moody paintings, their intimacy bringing a tension that highlights the sensitivity to psychology that exists
within human relations. There are also two permanent installations that were unveiled as part of Van Gogh Live! Raphael Hefti’s beautiful, shifting coloured glass installation reflects and refracts onto the walls and floors of the courtyard and shop, and is a wonderful materialisation of the light that Van Gogh loved so much in Arles. Bertrand Lavier’s bold gestural installation of van Gogh’s iconic signature on the main gate references the painterly touch so symbolic of him as an artist.
Van Gogh Live! pursues the echo of van Gogh in contemporary practice, and some of the works in the exhibition are outstanding - Hume’s subtlety with colour, Hauser’s grace with sound and Hefti’s use of light. The coupling of two exhibitions within the same space reflects the notion of rereading and reinterpretation in the reception of art. Whilst van Gogh’s influence runs through much current practice, it is still a challenge to coherently bring it together as an exhibition. However, when it works it is both fluid and lively, much like van Gogh’s work.