How a New Exhibition at the Vincent van GoghHuis Brings the Artist’s Work to Life Anew

Artist Ruud van Empel's work reimagines the Post-Impressionist's life and art.

Ron Dirven. Courtesy of Ron Dirven.

Ron Dirven, the director and curator of the Vincent van GoghHuis in the Netherlands, aims to keep the spirit of the legendary artist alive by commissioning contemporary artists to create new works that reimagine Vincent van Gogh’s signature motifs.

Several years ago, while working with artist Ruud van Empel on an unrelated project at the Stedelijk Museum Breda, Dirven and Van Empel bonded over their appreciation for Van Gogh, and the idea for “Inventing Van Gogh” was born.

The exhibition, which highlights works by Van Empel that are inspired by the famed Post-Impressionist, will run from August 14 to December 5, 2021 at the Van GoghHuis. 

Coinciding with our current photography sale through Artnet Auctions, Ruud Van Empel: Inventing Van Gogh (through June 17), we had the chance to speak with Dirven to hear about the inspiration behind his latest project, his relationship with Empel, and why this sale is so important right now. 

Can you briefly describe your career path? What sparked your fascination with Vincent van Gogh?

After studying journalism, art history, and painting, I worked at the Stedelijk Museum Breda, where I curated an exhibition about Van Gogh. This gave me the opportunity to study his life and work thoroughly for a couple of years. Since then, I have become attached to Vincent. I was invited to curate several exhibitions in the North-Brabant province and eventually to help erect a museum on the artist’s birth ground. Thus, Vincent van GoghHuis opened in Zundert in 2008.

The Vincent van GoghHuis in Zundert, courtesy of the Vincent van GoghHuis.

How did “Inventing Van Gogh” come together? What was your greatest challenge?

I asked Ruud van Empel to create imaginary portraits of Van Gogh and personal interpretations of his well-known still lifes and landscapes. Teaming up with him as a Van Gogh scholar and providing him with the information he needed was the greatest challenge for me. I really enjoy working with the artist.

What has been the most exciting or rewarding moment in curating this sale, and working with Ruud van Empel?

After sending the press release of the forthcoming exhibition, I received a very enthusiastic response from Susanna Wenniger, head of photographs at Artnet, suggesting a special auction of Ruud van Empel’s Van Gogh works to benefit Vincent van GoghHuis. The most rewarding aspect of this sale has been Ruud van Empel’s full cooperation, thereby supporting Vincent van GoghHuis.

Can you tell us more about the artist’s artistic process? 

Van Empel creates images that evoke an entirely new reality on his computer. While sometimes weird and confronting, these works always adopt a supernatural beauty and bear his own strong signature. He has an eye for every little detail in the composition, which he works out meticulously and with great mastery.

Ruud van Empel, Vincent #1, 2020. Courtesy of Artnet Auctions Ruud van Empel: Inventing Van Gogh Sale.

How did you come across his work?  What led you to partner with him?

A few years ago, I curated an exhibition about the painter’s village in Dongen, with works from the 19th century combined with works by modern artists. I invited Ruud van Empel to participate in this exhibition. At the opening, we started talking about Vincent, and the idea for this project and a solo exhibition at Vincent van GoghHuis was born. Van Empel is a famous artist in the Netherlands. Because he was born in Breda, where I live, I have been especially interested in his work for a long time, visiting major exhibitions in several museums. 

What is one fact about Van Gogh’s work that you want viewers to know? What about Ruud van Empel’s?

Both Van Gogh and Van Empel were born and raised in the same area of North-Brabant. Zundert lies just a stone’s throw away from Breda. The beauty of the rural landscape inspired them both. So, in their works you can sense kindred souls.

Do you have a favorite work from “Inventing Van Gogh”?

I like the entire series. The landscapes are extremely beautiful, and the portraits are very surprising. Together, they create a new way of experiencing Van Gogh’s work.

Ruud van Empel, Van Gogh #5, 2020. Courtesy of Artnet Auctions Ruud van Empel: Inventing Van Gogh Sale.

What makes this sale important now, and how does Artnet Auctions shed the necessary light on these works?

This sale gives special attention to the forthcoming exhibition of Ruud van Empel. We’re excited to welcome more visitors from abroad to our museum as it’s becoming safer to travel post-pandemic.

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