My mother took me to the Art Institute of Chicago when I was very young and let me pick out postcards of my favorite paintings. I chose mostly Impressionists such as Degas, Cezanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh, and Seurat. It can be argued that not all of these are strictly Impressionists, and Cezanne outright rejected being labeled a part of the movement, but the beauty of light, texture, and subject matter in their work is what drew me to them so long ago. I have made my way to different shows at the Art Institute over the years to immerse myself in these artists—one on one. The so-called immersive experience of Monet and the Impressionists at Lighthouse ArtSpace Chicago does a disservice to the work and passion of the artists, in my opinion. These are reproductions of art that should be seen live/in person to get a full appreciation of light and color at play. This exhibit is art on steroids and not a true representation of an important movement in art history.
Massimiliano Siccardi is the creative director of this experience and other immersive work in Europe and America. Siccardi achieved renown for mise en scene in dance concerts. Luca Longobardi is the composer for the mixtape of composers heard as you view the show. Ravel and Debussy have been reduced to a 45 version of an album track on AM radio. David Korins is the global creative director for the worlds/sets created for Hamilton, Mrs. Doubtfire: The Musical, and other award-winning television presentations. They have an impressive collective resume for their original works but that talent does not translate into a great display of Impressionists.
One issue—among many—is that there are at least ten artists from the Impressionist group that emerged in France in the latter part of the 19th century. The display is a panorama of masterpieces organized according to someone’s whim. A bridge, water, random parts of nude figures, dancers, and fruit—notably Cezanne’s apples. The treatment of Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe especially bothered me. In the original painting, it seemed prurient rather than curious to see only the nude woman with the two men fully clothed. That’s why the painting caused a hue and cry about its impropriety when it was first exhibited, and here the other figures have been edited out. That is another issue that I have—who are the makers of this display to edit great art to commercialize it?
Other than all being Impressionist paintings, there is no cohesiveness to the display. It is a collage in motion bouncing off of mirrors, and while the makers may have felt it was a tribute to a fine art movement, it feels more like exploitation. I thought that I would possibly have a different reaction if it was one artist on display, but that is no consolation. ArtSpace has Van Gogh playing simultaneously and previously Frida Kahlo in surround-o-rama. I wanted to survey the attending audience, and ask if this immersive experience made them want to see the actual art work, or was this experience sufficient?
Exploitation is the biggest sticking point for me. A lot of these artists suffered greatly for their art. They felt compelled to cull beauty from what was often a pitiless and uncaring world. Van Gogh, Lautrec, and Monet endured mental illness, alcoholism, and blindness. I have always found it bothersome that their work sells for millions exclusively to people who may have crossed the street if they saw them. So now, the works of a major art movement are made palatable to a screen-obsessed world by chopping them up into a collage.
We sat through it twice and in different parts of the room to see if there was a better view. Alas, it was the same in every location—blurry and distorted by the crown molding and decorative trim of the former Germania Place venue. Immersive Monet and the Impressionists is a pleasant way for tourists to spend an afternoon. It could even be a good way to introduce children to art, but be sure to take them to see the real paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago. This is no comparison to real paintings by Impressionists and other masters. The show runs about 75 minutes and if you can, sit through it twice. Immersive Monet and the Impressionists is at Lighthouse ArtSpace Chicago, 108 W. Germania Place, near the intersection of North Avenue and Clark Street. Tickets start at $29. Please visit www.immersivemonet.com for more information and tickets.
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