Visiting Van Gogh’s Bedroom
Growing up in and around Chicago means frequent visits to the Institute of Art. It’s a regular fixture of school field trips and Chicago’s cultural nucleus. My mother was always fond of the Art Institute and some of my favorite memories are of our trips there together. Over the years, the museum and surrounding area have all seen significant change. The neighboring rail yard is now a beautiful outdoor amphitheater and the museum itself has received a facelift along with the recent addition of a modern wing that breathes new life into the whole space. Throughout these changes, the museum has stayed consistent and kept a steady rotation of impressive temporary or traveling exhibits. The most recent exhibit on Vincent Van Gogh and his series of bedroom paintings has captured people’s attention both in and outside of the museum.
For the first time since being painted, the three versions of Van Gogh’s Bedroom in Areles are again under one roof where they’ll be on view among several other works by the artist along with a retrospective on his life. To celebrate the Dutch artist and promote his series of bedroom paintings on display, the Art Institute of Chicago has partnered with Airbnb to create a full-scale version of Van Gogh’s second bedroom painting and listed the space for rent on Airbnb (along with a few limited invitations). The Van Gogh bedroom is a life-size, three-dimensional and fully functional version of the painting, with details extending all the way down to each brush stroke.
Located in Chicago’s River North neighborhood, a few blocks north of the Chicago River and west of Michigan Avenue, the Van Gogh space occupies the bedroom of an apartment that sits on the 29th floor of a new building. It’s unclear what to expect when entering the space. Photos only do so much justice and the steel and glass surrounding don’t feel like the original space in the south of France. Once inside, the open floor layout of the kitchen and living room greets you with new fixtures, Barcelona chairs and an incredible view of Chicago’s west side and a sliver of Lake Michigan to the north. After rounding a corner and flipping on the light switch to illuminate the bedroom, things go slightly out of focus. Internally, this kind of juxtaposition doesn’t make much sense, but shortly after taking in the scene, the details begin to come into focus and a true appreciation forms.
Simply put, stepping into a painting is difficult to process. The whole thing is surreal, almost cartoonish and in many ways carries a resemblance to theatre sets. It all seems fake – in a lot of ways it is – but cautious inspection of each item, gently sitting on the chairs and bed, offers some reassurance to the reality of the scene. Throughout the room, Van Gogh’s colors and textures come to life and new details emerge with every close-up examination. Finally, it all comes together and it’s clear that in creating the space, no detail went overlooked. Every brush stroke, color sampling, shadow, piece of peeling paint, everything was thought through and taken into careful consideration. The end result is stepping inside of one of the world’s most recognizable paintings. Not bad.
Over the course of his life, Vincent Van Gogh got around. He lived in over 20 cities across four countries, trying his hand at several professions before finally committing his life to art and painting. It wasn’t until his move to the south of France and the small city of Arles when Van Gogh finally felt he’d found somewhere worth calling home, albeit if only for a short time. He moved into a small building at number 2 Place Lamartine which he would become known as the Yellow House. On the second floor, next to a room rented by Gauguin, was the setting for Van Gogh’s famed trio of bedroom paintings. The first of the three was painted in Arles during the fall of 1888, whereas the latter two were completed a year later while a resident of a nearby hospital. Since their completion, the three paintings haven’t been housed together, giving all the more meaning to their reunion.
Van Gogh’s Bedrooms are on display at the Chicago Institute of Art through May 10th, 110 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago. And the Airbnb space can be booked during the same timeframe here (subject to availability). [ Chicago Art Institute, Airbnb ]