Monet and Friends: art that moves you

"Monet and Friends – Life, Light & Colour" – Lautrec. Photo: supplied.

Last year he invited Sydney audiences to experience Van Gogh in a new light. This year, Bruce Peterson is back with multi-sensory exhibition, Monet and Friends – Life, Light & Colour. Rita Bratovich spoke with this modern impresario about his unique curatorial approach. 

Bruce Peterson’s daughter is an artist. His mother and grandmother were also artists. He loves art but has never drawn or painted or sculpted or done anything artistic – his background is in sport. 

“I think that’s actually served [Grande Experiences] well because I probably look at things in a different way to perhaps someone who has grown up and is deep inside the arts fraternity,” says Peterson. “I’m looking at things from a visitor perspective rather than a curatorial arts perspective.”

Grande Experiences is the company Peterson started 15 years ago when he was inspired to bring traditional art to new audiences – audiences that were growing up in enhanced, interactive, high-tech environments. His exhibitions are immersive installations that use light, colour, sound, and scent. 

Monet and Friends – Life, Light & Colour comes to Sydney this month. Photo: supplied.

“I think it’s a fantastic introduction for people, especially younger ones – ultimately a five or six-year-old child doesn’t care less about who Vincent Van Gogh is, or Claude Monet, or any of them. What they want is just to fall in love with the colour and the movement and have a really positive first experience into art and culture,” explains Peterson. 

While he’s very much focused on novel ways to present art, Peterson is also keen to preserve the integrity of the original works and the artist’s intent. His aim is to augment the potential emotional and even intellectual response to familiar artworks. 

“If you’re an art connoisseur and you really understand your art you’re going to get a lot out of this exhibition as well, because you’re going to see it presented in a way and a light that you’ve never seen it before: never seen the brush strokes in such detail and such size.”

Each exhibition is a huge integration and can take from 12 to 18 months to create. Much of the technology and design had to be learned or developed from scratch; at the time of the first show in 2010, no one had done anything like this. With shows happening all over the world in a variety of venues, the technical challenges are vast: they have to adjust for different display dimensions and acoustics; they have to consider stability of a platform that is playing continuously several times a day for days on end. 

Monet and Friends – Renoir. Photo: supplied.

“I think what’s really helped us on this journey is we started with Leonardo da Vinci,” says Peterson. “Leonardo, 500 years ago, was the epitome of art and science joined together in the one field. And I think that’s essentially what we’re doing now is bringing this all around into another renaissance 500 years later.”

Peterson argues that if the great artists had been alive today, they would almost certainly be working with the digital medium. In fact, one of his goals is to help contemporary digital artists display their work at size. 

In terms of audience response, Peterson says it varies. Some people stand in awe, some smile or laugh, some close their eyes, absorbed; many exit the exhibition in tears. 

“That’s really what we want to do, is just move people,” says Peterson.

He particularly likes the way kids respond.  

“I just love the fact that young children get into this environment and roll around on the floor in the projection and chase the moving image and the like and really just have this carefree … I’m just in it. I’m in the painting, I’m in the colour and it’s moving!  And they don’t have to understand the subject matter, they just have to understand that art can be fun.”

Monet and Friends – Cezanne. Photo: supplied.

Music is an integral element and Peterson and the team spend a long time choosing pieces that will complement the images and contribute to an overall story. Scent has been integrated through suffusion, and touch and taste are additional elements that are planned for Covid-free times. 

“When you get all these senses working together, you actually get a bigger outcome, and often that outcome is an emotional outcome, and when you’ve got an emotional outcome, you’ve actually made a difference, you’ve actually made an impression on someone.”

Monet and Friends – Life, Light & Colour: from Friday, 12 March, Royal Hall of Industries, Moore Park. For more info and bookings visit: monetandfriends.com.