A fine art of bringing together 74 Van Gogh works in one spot

How do you bring together 74 multi-million dollar works by Vincent van Gogh from museums, foundations and private collections around the world for a massive exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts? Carefully. Very carefully.

By the time Metro Detroiters finally set foot in the much-anticipated Van Gogh in America exhibition, which opens to the public on Sunday, all 74 works will be on display for visitors to admire in all their glory.

But to get them there, each museum or collection sent its own “courier” to personally escort the works to the DIA. The works were sent from around 60 locations around the world, including the famous Musée d’Orsay in Paris, the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. The paintings and drawings are also taken away by courier.

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The couriers “watch it (the painting) being installed, and then they come back to watch us uninstall it,” said Jill Shaw, Curator of European Art by Rebecca A. Boylan and Thomas W. Sidlik, 1850- 1970 Detroit Institute of Arts, curator of the exhibition. “You travel with them.”

“Van Gogh in America,” which examines how Van Gogh’s work was received in the United States and how the DIA became the first US museum to acquire one of his paintings, “Self-Portrait” (1887), for its permanent collection in 1922 Other museums in the Midwest followed suit, but it was another twenty years before a New York museum acquired a work by Van Gogh.

Some of the works shown in the exhibition also come from nearby museums, such as “The Bedroom”, a loan from the Art Institute of Chicago. Some are from private collectors, such as Harvest in Provence, painted by Van Gogh in 1888, inspired by the landscape and colors of Arles, France. It is on loan to the DIA of Heather James Fine Art in Palm Desert.

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The largest number of works for the exhibition, around 20, came from the Vincent van Gogh Foundation, established by Van Gogh’s nephew, Vincent Willem van Gogh. After the death of his mother Jo, Van Gogh established a foundation with his uncle’s work and the Van Gogh Museum in the 1960s.

“The museum displays the works that belong to the foundation,” Shaw said.

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Even the couriers were impressed when they saw so many Van Gogh paintings in one place, Shaw said. The exhibition, billed as one of the largest exhibitions of Van Gogh’s work of the 21st century, was originally scheduled to open in 2020 but was postponed ahead of COVID-19, allowing the DIA to add six more works not originally included.

Van Gogh’s story “is an incredible story,” Shaw said.

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“Van Gogh in America”

Opens Sunday at the Detroit Institute of Arts and runs through January 22nd

Contains 74 authentic works by Van Gogh, including paintings and drawings from around the world.

Tickets cost $14-29 for adults; Reduced rates for residents of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.

Go to dia.org/events/exhibitions/van-gogh-america.