Explore Van Gogh’s immersive Bedrooms with Bluecadet
Bluecadet has designed a cinematic, projection-mapped recreation of Van Gogh’s bedroom at Arles and custom interactive surfaces to accompany a unique exhibition of the artist’s Bedrooms paintings, at the Art Institute of Chicago.
The reproduction is of a 9 foot x 16 foot room in a small home in southern France. To the room’s occupant, the scratched tile floors, simple furniture, and baby-blue walls provided a quiet respite and the perfect setting and subject for three of the most significant and architecturally biographical paintings in history.
After years of planning, these masterpieces have been united at the Art Institute of Chicago thanks to loans from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
For this historic first, the curatorial team faced the challenge of how to best depict the complex life of Van Gogh – an artist many people feel they already know – and the aspects that continue to place his Bedroom series among his most acclaimed work.
Following a successful collaboration in 2014 with Bluecadet on its James Ensor exhibition, the Art Institute’s curators and conservators worked with the agency to create a strategic plan which eventually led to a series of interactive experiences carefully woven into the exhibition installation.
“Van Gogh’s paintings are iconic, and his life story is also extremely well-known,” said Bluecadet’s founder Josh Goldblum. “With all of that in mind, we wanted to challenge visitors to go deeper, and to allow them to discover a more authentic, human side of Van Gogh’s life and work.”
The first of these experiences uses an abstracted life-sized recreation of the bedroom as a canvas for projections of animated sketches and quotes taken from Van Gogh’s personal letters. Those insights made it clear that, after years of a nomadic lifestyle with poor living conditions, this small but sunny room represented a sense of stability for the artist.
In the exhibit, subtle light and ambient sound supplement the projections and help visitors better understand the personal struggles, and the hope represented by the single room. The projection captures the bright colours of Arles which inspired Van Gogh, and those colours artfully fade, representing the ageing of the paintings as well as the artist’s tumultuous affairs.
After seeing the originals, visitors are invited to dig deeper as they are introduced to an 18 foot x 9 foot projection allowing them to revel in the detail of the brushstrokes and further observe the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between the three paintings.
Flanking the projection are two interactive screens offering visitors ‘superpowers’ to conduct a synchronised exploration of the paintings. By pinching, zooming and panning, visitors can uncover findings made by the conservation team. For example, X-rays reveal how Van Gogh adapted his process for adding details.
With another a close look, light-raking technology reveals a vastly different topography – one painting is relatively smooth, while another shows peaks and valleys where paint has been built up. Size and deterioration of the paint confirms which painting was the original.
By design, these immersive digital experiences help tell Van Gogh’s story in new ways, revealing the dreams and emotions of an accomplished artist and providing visitors with the power to investigate the Bedrooms like a curator or conservator.