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Welcome to Van Gogh World!

9 April 2023

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

There is nothing Rakewell likes so much as a rollercoaster ride, sometimes even in the literal sense. Imagine your roving correspondent’s interest in the recent announcement that the Efteling amusement park near Eindhoven will be involved in an event called the Van Gogh Homeland Biennale. Due to take place in the district of North Brabant, the biennale has more on its mind besides art. Taking advantage of the painter’s birth in the region, the event’s first curator Winy Maas hopes to ‘show, in an attractive and accessible way, how the landscape that inspired Vincent Van Gogh 150 years ago can be made more sustainable’.

Maas is the principal of MVRDV, the Rotterdam-based architectural firm responsible for the ‘Marble Arch Mound’, the artificial hill intended to bring visitors back into a deserted central London in 2021. The renders were promising, but reality disappointed. According to a review in the New York Times, the result was ‘a pile of blocky scaffolding covered in patches of vegetation that look in danger of slipping off’. Still, a project is only as good as its commissioner will allow it to be – and there doesn’t seem to be any love lost between the Dutch architect and Westminster Council, with the former saying that it had ‘never before experienced such nonchalance and laxity’ with its designs.

The Old Church Tower at Nuenen (‘The Peasants’ Churchyard’) (1885), Vincent Van Gogh. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Let us hope that MVRDV is luckier in its partners in North Brabant. The ongoing Dutch nitrogen crisis and standoff between the government and farmers about cutting nitrogen emissions means that the environment is more contested than ever before. The biennale plans to create ‘super dunes, horticularal towers, rain chambers , and heather houses’ to draw attention to a landscape under pressure. As Maas puts it, ‘How can Brabant find the balance between idyll and progress?’ – and perhaps Van Gogh really can be a unifier here.

It may be a little churlish to point out that the painter’s sombre depictions of his homeland are not the landscapes for which he is now loved. But while ‘immersive’ light-show versions of his most famous paintings are on tour, a series of outdoor attractions alluding to his works seems an attractively modest affair. MVDRV has released a render of what looks like a giant trellis or open bookcase covered in plants, featuring a silhouette of Van Gogh’s face and an orange slide running down from his chin. Perhaps reality will be kinder to the architect this time.

Got a story for Rakewell? Get in touch at rakewell@apollomag.com or via @Rakewelltweets.