"Beyond Monet" exhibit is like a joyful trip to Planet Impressionism


Peter Howell

Movie Critic


"Beyond Monet" isn't a movie. It's an art exhibit, viewable until Nov. 7 at Toronto's Metro Convention Centre, host to the show's world premiere.


It just feels like a movie, a very big one, which likely explains why it attracted film critics at a recent press preview.


Encountering the paintings of Impressionist master Oscar-Claude Monet via the exhibit's all-encompassing form compares to watching an IMAX picture in 360 degrees. Monet's vivid colours and energetic brush strokes caress the senses, taking us on a dreamscape tour of the French artist's works that lasts about 30 minutes. The experience is sheer bliss.


More than 400 of Monet's paintings are projected onto mammoth screens, including such iconic pieces as "Water Lilies," "Haystacks," "Impression, Sunrise" and, my personal favourite, "Woman with a Parasol — Madame Monet and Her Son." They float past, as if soaring through the sky, many of them animated to seem all the more real. Visitors can take photos and walk right up to the screens, although masks are required as per pandemic protocol. (Circles on the floor assist with maintaining social distancing.)


Viewing is possible both from the floor and from a large gazebo, which lifts the gaze even higher. The paintings ebb and flow, as do the four seasons. To Monet's artistic eye, all light was good light and all kinds of weather brought pleasure.


Covering 50,000 square feet and with more than one million cubic feet of space, "Beyond Monet" fills two large oval-shaped rooms. The first is an approximation of Monet's garden in Giverny, outside Paris, replete with copies of its bright green Japanese bridge. The two rooms were designed to conjure the floor plan of the Musée de l'Orangerie in Paris, a museum purposely designed for Monet.


There are so many images in "Beyond Monet," it's easy to lose track of them, something the artist admitted about himself.


"When I work, if I am interrupted, I lose all inspiration, I am lost," he said. "You understand easily, I am chasing a sliver of colour."


The statement is one of a few carefully chosen ones that adorn the screens. The curators have decided to let Monet's work speak for itself, without any contextual clutter.


The Giverny section includes some historical notes about Monet and his era. Once such missive amusingly recalls that the famous art movement known as Impressionism was named both for Monet's "Impression, Sunrise" painting of 1872 and for a sneering dismissal by a French journalist, Louis Leroy. He fatuously observed that Monet and other like-minded painters were unable to render images realistically, as per the conservative standards of the day. Would Leroy be so patronizing, I wonder, if he were able to view Monet's work through the wizardry of this exhibit's 21st century lens?


Come to think of it, perhaps the film analogy is too limiting. "Beyond Monet" is so immersive, a visit to it is actually more like being joyfully teleported to Planet Impressionism.


("Beyond Monet" runs from Aug. 12 to Nov. 7 at the Metro Convention Centre, 255 Front St. W. Adult tickets start at $40 for off-peak times, available through MonetToronto.com.)


@peterhowellfilm

Photos: Peter Howell






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