The Sistine Chapel (Experience) Is Coming to a City Near You, Letting You See Michelangelo’s Work (Or, Um, Images of It) Up Close
Here's your chance to get personal with (pictures of) Michelangelo's work.
Michelangelo‘s famed Sistine Chapel is coming to cities across the U.S. thanks to high-resolution, nearly full-scale reproductions of the artist’s famed frescoes. (The originals, of course, can only be seen at the Vatican Museums in Rome.)
“Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition” has been touring the globe since 2015, and previously went on view in New York beneath the soaring ribbed ceiling of Santiago Calatrava’s Oculus at the World Trade Center in 2017, under the title “Up Close: Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.” The Renaissance master painted the chapel ceiling between 1508 and 1512, and The Last Judgment on the back wall in 1535.
The latest iteration of the show, which has opened in Chicago, San Antonio, and Charlotte, North Carolina, and will soon be back in New York, seems to have been retooled to capitalize on the newfound popularity of the runaway hit “Immersive Van Gogh.”
The earlier chapel presentation struck a scholarly note, with detailed wall texts identifying the figures in the paintings. And despite the Oculus’s location inside a mall, the brightly lit space recalled the classic white cube gallery (as well as the chapel’s soaring ceilings).
Photographs of more recent editions have more of a cinematic flair, the illuminated paintings shown in darkened halls—more in line with the vibe at “Immersive Van Gogh.”
But while the hit Van Gogh exhibition (and its controversial knock offs) transforms the Dutch artist’s masterpieces into animated light projections, the Sistine Chapel frescoes have been reproduced using the Giclée printing process onto nylon-based mesh similar to a movie theater screen. (The special fabric was apparently chosen to best mimic the painted plaster surface of the originals.)
The Sistine Chapel exhibition is produced by Special Entertainment Events (SEE), which is known for organizing touring shows on topics including King Tut, the Titanic, and Star Trek.
The reproductions of the 34 Michelangelo frescoes are based on licensed, high-definition photographs of the space shot by Austrian photographer Erich Lessing, with Bridgeman Images serving as a production partner.
In theory, this Sistine Chapel experience does have a few advantages over the original, in that it can be seen at eye level, rather than from far below. The up-close vantage point affords viewers the chance to observe small details that might otherwise go unnoticed, and even see reproductions of Michelangelo’s individual brushstrokes.
Plus, there is a notorious no-photograph policy inside the actual chapel, which is bad news for one’s Instagram game.
When SEE founder and C.E.O. Martin Biallas visited the Sistine Chapel in person, “I didn’t really enjoy the experience,” he told Minnesota Monthly ahead of the exhibition’s opening last fall at the Mall of America. “There were long lines and 2,000 people. You couldn’t take photos and the guards were very militant about it.”
Here, you get “a life-sized, up-close, never-before-seen perspective of the genius masterpieces,” according to the exhibition website.
The Los Angeles edition of the show opens in late August, with New York and San Francisco following in September. There are also outings planned in Miami, Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Washington, D.C., among other cities, plus international showings in Paris, Madrid, Singapore, Rio de Janeiro, Toronto, and more.
The location of the New York exhibition has yet to be announced, but visits will typically last from an hour to 90 minutes, according to organizers.
How the experience compares to the various Van Gogh exhibitions remains to be seen, but the ticket prices are surprisingly reasonable compared to the Post Impressionist’s light show, starting at just $19.20 for adults and $13.50 for children in New York.
See more photos of the show below.
“Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition” is on view in New York September 30, 2021–January 2, 2022.
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