Laura Owens and Van Gogh in Arles is a special opportunity to see the two artists in the same place, their works of art connected in a unique way and a must-see when visiting Arles France.
This summer, we have the honor to see the exhibition of Laura Owens and Van Gogh in Fondation Vincent Van Gogh in Arles, an amazing collaboration between the two artists. One long time ago gone, another one alive, their conversation seems pretty much vivid, it communicates with the spectator on all levels and invites her to fully open all the senses.
Coming into the space with seven Van Gogh’s paintings, that Laura Owens chose herself for this exhibition, and her wallpapers, the spectator is straight away in the aw of the sight before her. Laura Owens painter often involves the space she exhibits in, in her work of art. Owens makes the space her own, appropriates not only displays and what is visible, but also goes inside of the realm of the invisible. That is how she uses walls, makes holes in the tables, releases smells around the audience.
Arles and Van Gogh
Arles and Van Gogh have a very tight connection. Did you know that Van Gogh painted 200 of his most famous pieces in Arles? This is where he started to experiment and create his work of art today known around the world. Arles is also where he cut his ear and decided to devote his time to his mental health.
Van Gogh started painting when he was 27 years old. Vincent van Gogh considered that reproducing what he was seeing, the traditional way of painting made no sense, probably because photography appeared. That is why he started ‘’deforming’’ the nature, only to achieve something different and extraordinary.
First, this famous artist went to Paris and considered that it was too crowded and saturated, he felt extremely tired and decided to leave the city of light and go to Marseille. The legend says that the day he was coming, it was snowing that heavily that the train stopped in Arles and Van Gogh could not continue his traveling. He loved so much the region that he stayed, always supported emotionally and financially by his brother, a merchant of art.
Van Gogh managed to sell only 1 painting during his lifetime.
Foundation Vincent Van Gogh
Arles does not possess any of Van Gogh’s paintings today despite the fruitful work of the painter. Arles opened the Fondation Vincent Van Gogh in 2014 and organizes exhibitions every six months. They ask other museums and private collectors to lend them Van Gogh’s pieces for the purposes of the exhibitions.
This wonderful space was built by combining two Hotels Particuliers (French mansions), one of which was a national bank of Arles and the other one apartments of the owner of the bank. Today, this place serves its magnificent purpose: brings back Van Gogh to the habitants of Arles and all the people in the South of France eager of Van Gogh’s works of art.
Laura Owens painter
Laura Owens was born in 1970 in the USA. She has already had a retrospective exhibition in New York and Los Angeles and is considered today as one of 20 most influential and famous American artists.
Owens studies in 1990, simultaneously fine arts and design. Laura Owens painter testifies in many interviews that at that time painting was considered something outdated and démodé. The artists are invited to orient themselves towards installations, performance, design, even sculpture. However, she continued to paint despite all the advice from the establishment.
The second Owens’s rebellious act was not to listen to her professors. Namely, the professors at the time saw studying fine arts as something very divided between sexes. Male professors encouraged female artists to paint realistically, banal situations from everyday life, to practice an ‘’easy’’ painting. On the other hand, the professors motivated their male students to paint the abstract art. Laura Owens refused their suggestions and advice and was devoted to abstraction.
Laura Owens in Arles
Laura Owens painter arrived to Arles on the same date as Van Gogh did, only over a century later, February 20th 2020 to do her residency in the Foundation Van Gogh, a prestigious institution in Arles. Once in Arles, surprised by the pandemic, she decided to stay in France. She has been here for over a year and a half now, working on the exposition for the summer 2021, that, initially was supposed to take place in 2020.
The painting that Laura Owens exposed, the only one that was brought from the States for this occasion and not painted in Arles, was created in 1997. As many of her works of art, it does not have a name and it does not have a clear explanation. The Fondation Van Gogh Arles thought that this painting might be an early connection to Van Gogh’s birds flying and generous skies in his paintings.
Laura Owens and Van Gogh
For this exposition, Laura Owens created the wallpapers that are filled with optical illusions, paintings and a sort of a small library for which she created interactive books. All of the work she produced for this occasion always has a goal to reflect Van Gogh’s work. The two artists are in the constant dialogue connecting two different centuries, the 19th and the 21st with the different techniques and ways of reflecting on the painting, colors, space and shapes.
Van Gogh’s paintings that Laura Owens chose
Laura Owens chose herself Van Gogh’s paintings that were going to be displayed. The seven Van Gogh paintings at the Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles were borrowed from the museums around he world, some of which Laura Owens has a deep connection with. For example, Hospital at Saint-Rémy (1889) comes from the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, the city where she lives when not in Arles.
Van Gogh’s painting Hospital at Saint-Rémy
The painting Hospital at Saint-Rémy is a magnificent work of art. It was definitely my favorite painting in the exhibition. The movement of the trees invites you to go into the painting and let yourself be completely immersed in the garden and its beautiful pine trees. As you look closely you will see people right in front or besides the trunks of trees. The typical Provençal building in the back gives a pleasant contrast with the trees and brightens up the whole composition.
A strong influence on Van Gogh was the Japanese print, Japan will open its borders and will open itself to the world in the 19th century and Van Gogh as other artists of that time, will be fascinated by it. Monet, Matisse, Van Gogh will be profoundly inspired by the simplicity of the Japanese works of art and will reproduce certain elements on what was then, their personal experimental research on canvases. It is this style that is reflected on the trees on this painting.
That is exactly what will be Laura Owen’s inspiration for the wallpaper that surrounds this painting. She will be inspired by the Japanese motives to create the environment for this Van Gogh’s painting.
Hospital at Saint-Rémy
The setting of the painting is situated in Saint-Remy de Provence, in a sanatorium where Van Gogh decided to voluntary go after he cut himself his ear. He was aware of his mental instability and knew he had to be treated. Even not that common for today, he understood the importance of the mental health and that he needed help.
During the first month inside of this institution, he could not go out, he also lost all the self-esteem and confidence that he could paint, so he took one of his favorite artists – Millet and looked for the motives that he could reproduce and use on his own paintings. That is how we have a completely different style, colors and the environment, but we see echoes of Millet’s workers on fields on Van Gogh’s works when he was hospitalized.
Van Gogh and Laura Owens exhibition worth visiting
This exhibition is very much worth visiting specially because of wonderful installation, the way the story about both Van Gogh and Laura Owens is told. The sight for the eye is something absolutely magnificent and I strongly recommend this exhibition.
I will leave you in the end with the beautiful photos from the roof top of the foundation. Worth visiting also for its Rencontre d’Arles, a world-wide photography festival, Arles, a roman city has so much more to offer!