If Van Gogh’s painting “The Bedroom” is the sort of painting that transports you, summoning you to physically enter it, the Art Institute of Chicago's 3D replica of the space says, in effect, “Come on in.” For $10 a night, you can get what the museum calls “the experience of a lifetime...The room will make you feel like you’re living in a painting.”
Well, not exactly. The replica of Vincent’s room for rent comes with Wi-Fi.
Look, I’m all for boosting art appreciation, but putting people up for a night in a room where Van Gogh was sick, was bedridden - where he ultimately died after dragging himself from a field more than a mile way to bleed to death from a gunshot wound - is downright macabre..
The unpopular bedroom
And in case you think Van Gogh’s bedroom was his favorite spot because he painted three versions of it, history refutes that. He made copies because the original was water-damaged in a flood while he was hospitalized. In fact, he didn’t spend much time in the room, except when he was sick. In a note to Gauguin he said the painting had come out of a sickness that kept him in bed for days. And he wrote his brother Theo that he made the painting “to get me even with the compulsory rest recommended for me.”
Yet, as if this historical record didn’t exist, the spokesperson for the Art Institute, Amanda Hicks, told the press, that the exhibit “allows viewers the chance to experience his state of mind and the physical reality of the space.”
Granted, the Art Institute owns one of the three versions of “The Bedroom” and understandably wants to bring attention to it. But if art appreciation is the goal, there are better Van Gogh paintings to promote - and better ways to feature them than replicating his room and renting it out..
If you want to intensify the experience of a painting, why not magnify it to wall-size – ceiling to floor - and extend the enlargement around the room so viewers can feel they’re in the painting? If nothing else they can spot details overlooked in the easel painting.
A good possibility for turning a Van Gogh painting into a 360-degree environment would be a room-size blowup of “Starry Night.” Viewers could see, for example, all those signature lines painted one next to the other in the cypress trees to suggest how they wave back and forth in the wind. Van Gogh thought a lot of cypress trees, and often pictured them in his work. He spoke of them, too: “Cypress interests me continuously. I am surprised that no one sees them as I do.” He never said that about his bedroom.
About this bedroom business that the Art Institute has started, Hicks said not to worry. “Reservations will be restricted to just a single night. We're not planning on getting into the recreation of bedrooms business." Well, that’s a relief.