A new way of looking

Photo used with permission by the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Photo used with permission by the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the opening of Van Gogh: Up Close at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I was doing double duty, that night. First, I was attending officially as part of GSK's representative team, because we are one of the corporate sponsors, along with Sun Life Financial. But also, more importantly, I was attending as an art lover. And this show did not disappoint.

Van Gogh looms large when you study the canon of art history. He's A Big Deal. He made Important Paintings. Paintings that people look at in a museum gallery and say "ah, yes, of course--that's a Van Gogh." I thought I knew him so what more could I possibly learn?

But what struck me as I wandered through the exhibit was not what I recognized, but, instead, what surprised me--as well as some of the assumptions made by the curators in organizing it. What we get to see are not only some familiar pictures and themes (sunflowers, for example), but also a number of pictures of grasses, flowers, and landscapes which force the viewer into a dance with space and perspective. He pulled the viewer's eye to the foreground to look at interesting details or used radical strategies to push our eyes around the painting in ways never done before. He cropped images to limit the depth of field, highlighting the way he used paint and brushstrokes, to maximum emotional impact. And throughout the exhibit are complementary works from artists who inspired him, (or, in the case of contemporary nature photographers, maybe not so much...).

For me it was best shown in a painting called "Almond Blossom" from 1890. It's in the permanent collection of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and was painted to celebrate the birth of his nephew and namesake. It is so hopeful, and stands out from much of Van Gogh's other works. I stopped in my tracks when I happened upon it.

I'm really glad GSK sponsored this exhibit (the fifth that we have sponsored at the museum). It speaks of our commitment to the communities in which we operate. In addition to our support for the arts, GSK also has the IMPACT Awards, which rewards nonprofits for providing access to healthcare for underserved populations, patient assistance programs, and the PULSE employee volunteer program. We also support K-12 education (STEM, literacy, and dropout prevention), civic and environmental programs. All of these things help contribute to a healthy community.

Van Gogh: Up Close opens tomorrow, February 1. Don't miss it.