When I give, I give myself: 23 contemporary artists responding to letters by Vincent van Gogh, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

July 7, 2015

Vincent van Gogh, Blossoming Almond Tree, 1890, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

The exhibition runs until 17 January 2016 and features 23 Dutch and international contemporary artists and writers who have all created artworks in response to specific sections from letters by Vincent van Gogh. Their paintings, drawings, sculptures, installations, letters, poems, photos and videos show how Van Gogh is still a source of inspiration until this very day, 125 years since his death, and that his ideas are still relevant. The works are exhibited in combination with Van Gogh’s paintings, drawings and letters from the permanent collection of the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. Particupting artists include Ryan Gander, Christian Jankowski, Anish Kapoor and Yayoi Kusama.

Van Gogh wrote more than 800 letters, the majority addressed to his brother Theo. In his letters he not only voiced his ambitions and doubts, but also everything that inspired and amazed him in the world around him. Van Gogh’s ideas about art and life are inextricably connected with his work. He wrote to encourage himself, to express his doubts and to keep them under control. Guest curator and artist Henk Schut intensively studied Van Gogh’s letters and he became impressed, not only by their depth and the amount of self-reflection, but also by their relevance for artists today. Schut recognized the similarities between the themes in Van Gogh’s letters - such as death, (lack of) success, light, colour, isolation, the importance of literature, the empty canvas – with those of contemporary artists and their work.
Schut sent 23 artists and writers a letter by Van Gogh especially selected for each one of them and he invited them to respond to this letter. This has resulted in a surprising affinity between Van Gogh’s ideas and themes on the one hand, and contemporary art and literature on the other hand. Anish Kapoor, for instance, has focused on the intrinsic value of colour.