Becoming van Gogh is so popular in Denver that the Denver Art Museum is taking the big step of remaining open overnight on the exhibition’s final weekend: It will open at 8 a.m. on Jan. 19 and stay open until 11:59 p.m. on Jan. 20, when it closes for good. That announcement was made on Friday — after several previous extensions of the hours — and by this morning all the tickets were sold out except those between 1:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. on the 20th.
This exhibition, organized by the DAM’s paintings curator Timothy J. Standring, is only on view in Denver. Add to that the fact that Denver has never before had a van Gogh exhibition, and the the museum owns no van Gogh works of any sort. But still — this is a big victory for several reasons, not least the fact that Becoming van Gogh is not a retrospective, nor a highlights exhibit. It contains few of the paintings that the general public knows (no Sunflowers, no Irises, no Starry Night or Bedroom in Arles). It’s a teaching exhibition that breaks scholarly ground, demonstrating how van Gogh deliberately taught himself to draw and paint — or, as Standring said Friday when I was in Denver to see it for myself, to make marks (the fashionable lingo in art-history circles).
To recap briefly, the exhibition borrowed works from more than 60 public and private collections throughout Europe and North America to limn the key formative periods of van Gogh’s career — when he taught himself to draw, learned about the formal elements of art, explored color theory and painting techniques, and so on. Take a look at the museum’s website for the exhibit to get a taste of what I’m talking about, or read the article I wrote for the Wall Street Journal and my subsequent blog posts here and here.
While I had perused the catalogue avidly and spoken with Standring, I hadn’t seen the show until Friday — and I loved it. It’s debatable which is the “best” picture in Denver, but I can tell you several I loved: Thatched Roofs, a drawing owned by the Tate, is amazing. In Church (above) from the Kroller-Muller was new to me and touching. The little still life at left, from a private collection, is so vibrant it glows — as if it were radioactive. There were too many others to mention.
Denver extended hours earlier this year for the Yves St. Laurent exhibit, but not as much as this — and DAM director Christoph Heinrich told me that van Gogh will exceed YSL’s total by far. Although the museum’s King Tut exhibit, which ended last January, drew more people to DAM, it was on view for six months — whereas van Gogh started only on Oct. 21 — three months.
But there are other important markers for this show: for one, DAM reports that visitors are spending an average of 90 minutes viewing it — about 70 works by van Gogh himself about about 20 by others he “responded to.” That’s an astonishingly long visit. And the catalogue, 13,500 copies, is pretty much sold out.
All good news for the Denver museum and Denverites.