One of the most compelling art exhibitions I have ever seen is now showing in Paris at the Orsay Museum, until July 6th, “Van Gogh/Artaud, The Man Suicided by Society.” The title translates awkwardly into English, especially if you do not subscribe to the ideas that Vincent killed himself, or that he was insane, which is my case.
The interest is not, therefore, in Artaud’s argument that Vincent was driven to suicide by society’s clumsy inability to comprehend his art. Nor is it in Artaud’s own art, which is abundantly spread throughout the exhibition, in parallel with Van Gogh’s. What is riveting is the breath-taking scope and lucidity of the curator, Isabelle Cahn, in choosing so many exceptional works that together brilliantly manifest the myriad facets of Van Gogh’s genius.
This is an exhibition to be seen again and again, without risk of over-exposure. The sum is a result far-greater than an exploration of its individual components: an insight into one man’s breathless amazement at the complexity and intricacy of the world, revealed with an almost child-like sense of wonder combined with nearly demonic brushwork. It also evinces his penetrating perception of human character, as seen in his portraits of Pere Tanguy and Augustine Roulin, as well as in his own self-portraits—five of them! The latter are so gripping in insight and self-examination that a parallel comes to mind: the ensemble of Rembrandt self portraits in the Louvre.