The Art Institute of Chicago is presenting Vincent Van Gogh’s world-famous Bedrooms paintings together for the first time. The exhibit features rare masterworks together with a cinematic, projection-mapped recreation of Van Gogh’s bedroom at Arles and custom interactive surfaces designed by creative agency Bluecadet.
While at first glance, a 9′ x 16′ room in a small home in southern France might not seem special, 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. These paintings and their eclectic creator Vincent Van Gogh are celebrated in “Van Gogh’s Bedrooms.” After years of planning, these masterpieces have been united 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 life of Van Gogh and the aspects that continue to place his Bedroom series among his most acclaimed work. Along with the Art Institute’s team of world-class curators and conservators, Bluecadet created a strategic plan which eventually led to a series of interactive experiences carefully woven into the exhibition experience.
“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 personal letters. 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 colors of Arles which inspired Van Gogh, and those colors artfully fade, representing the aging of the paintings as well as the artist’s tumultuous affairs.
This emotional experience sets the tone for the visitors’ first encounter with the three paintings. After seeing the originals, visitors are invited to dig deeper as they are introduced to an 18′ x 9′ projection allowing them to see 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 synchronized exploration of the paintings. By pinching, zooming and panning, visitors can uncover findings made by the conservation team.