Van Gogh alive

08 2015 | Issue 8

Text/Ng King Ling

This year marks the 125th anniversary since Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh’s death. A pioneer of expressionism from the 19th century, Van Gogh’s works have deeply influenced the world of arts in the 20th century. His masterpieces De sterrennacht (The Starry Night) and Tournesols (The Sunflowers) have rooted so deeply in the public’s heart that they are still occasionally taken reference from by commercial print ads.

Van Gogh had a strong impact to the 20th century arts with his rich and colourful palette. After 125 years, his works continue to infiltrate the world in unique and creative ways. For example, Van Gogh used to live in the town of Nuenen in southern Netherlands, so now it has another name as the “Van Gogh Village”. The village is located next to the industrial city Eindhoven, and Philips, which started off by making light bulbs, originated from here. Every winter, they would hold a lighting equipment exhibition.

Hence, when Van Gogh Village decided to commemorate the 125th year of Van Gogh’s death, they invited a lighting designer to create a “Van Gogh Cycle Path” on a road that links to the town. As night falls, people would come here on their bikes and the road would light up in pale blue, just like the stars moving in the sky. The designer said he was emulating Van Gogh’s famous painting The Starry Night.

Europeans are not the only ones who are commemorating Van Gogh this year. Grande Exhibitions in Australia is holding the “Van Gogh Alive” multisensory art exhibition, and has toured it in places like the United States, Russia and Israel. It is now showing in Shanghai and Beijing in China. A number of Van Gogh’s paintings are projected to a four-metre high wall through a high-definition projector, or shown at the feet of the audiences. As a result, viewers are able to “stand” on the petal of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers created more than 100 years ago, stand next to a century-old starry riverside, or walk on the path in front of the café.

A lot of places are exhibiting Van Gogh with ingenuity, using technology and creativity from the 21st century to pay tribute to the great painter. The Van Gogh Museum in Netherlands’ capital Amsterdam needed no gimmick because of its national status, and was running comfortably just by exhibiting Van Gogh’s famous paintings. The museum’s main income source came from the ticket fee of its 1.5 million attendance annually, as well as the sales of souvenirs, which are themed by Van Gogh’s paintings.

But since the volcanic eruption in Iceland in year 2010, the number of European tourists has decreased drastically, subsequently pluming down the established museum’s income. Van Gogh Museum has finally understood that it cannot rest on its laurels, and started to conceive ways to generate sources of revenue. Thus it has changed in recent years.

The museum saw that more and more people are using art pieces as investments, but many collectors don’t know how to organise exhibitions, and lack knowledge of security measures even if they do host an exhibition. So Van Gogh Museum approached private museums and offered consultation services for them, having its in-house experts to teach these museums ways to manage famous paintings and introduce security systems. Van Gogh Museum once provided a three-year control-system contract for a New York commercial artwork warehouse.

In recent years Van Gogh Museum has even got involved in the education sector, co-holding art-finance courses with business schools of Tilburg University and Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands. It has also entered the China market, holding master courses in Art and Finance, or adding a subject of “Enterprise Culture Management” in MBA courses.

The life of the genius Van Gogh was a tragedy – he suffered from mental disorders, severed his left ear and committed suicide. But if he knew that all the effort he put in his works are driving the global creative industry to thrive nowadays, perhaps he will finally smile with satisfaction.