Is the exhibition “The Sistine Chapel of Michelangelo” in Bellevue worth the detour?
Review of the exhibition
It’s Michelangelo. How could you be wrong with Michelangelo?
Apparently you can.
Last Friday an exhibition featuring reproductions of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel paintings opened at the Bravern in Bellevue. While the concept is intriguing, the execution falls short.
Renaissance master Michelangelo Buonarroti’s famous frescoes, completed in 1512, depict the relationship between humanity and God. The frescoes are literally glued to the ceiling of Vatican City. Completely motionless. “Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition” brings images of the Sistine Chapel to a more convenient place for you.
I asked Sylvia Noland, Business Development Manager at SEE Global Entertainment, where the idea for the show came from. She told me that CEO Martin Biallas visited the Sistine Chapel ten years ago and his experience was less than satisfactory. He waited in line for two hours, had 15 minutes to look at the murals and had his phone confiscated because photos are prohibited.
Bravern Show Pro: You can take all the time and photos you want.
Disadvantage: it’s cheesy.
The Sistine Chapel exhibit is housed in the former Neiman Marcus space at The Bravern, adjacent to Prada, Gucci and Louis Vuitton boutiques. But when you walk into the exhibit, it doesn’t feel upscale and exclusive. It’s like someone blasted out grainy images of an iconic piece of art. There are foam poster boards next to each image. There are even racks of empty clothes lying around, at least during the preview of the exhibition I went to last Thursday. It really takes the mood away.
Amazingly, the 9-foot-tall reproductions stand against the wall, not the ceiling. Yes, you’ll have to wring your neck, but that’s a big part of the Sistine Chapel experience. The same exhibit passed through Tacoma in 2018, where pictures were indeed hung from the ceiling.
The exhibit says it’s for all ages. FYI, there’s a lot of nudity (it’s art) and violence (it’s the Bible). There is an audio guide that explains the biblical story behind each image. You need to download an app and scan a QR code to access it.
I brought a friend, Kristin Alexander, who went to Italy to see the real deal so she could help me compare them. Here’s how she summed it up: “I ordered a shower curtain from Amazon and it looked like this.”
When I told her the tickets were $20, she giggled.
The real Sistine Chapel, she says, is a completely different experience.
“I’ve seen a lot of beautiful things in my life,” she said. “It was the most beautiful. I just remember being incredibly impressed with this masterpiece. All the details. Completely surrounded by it.
“When I saw the Sistine Chapel, I had tears in my eyes, and I’m not even religious. And that” – gesturing around the Bravern exhibit – “makes me laugh.
I haven’t seen the Sistine Chapel in person — once! But in high school, I had a “Creation of Adam” poster. Like my old poster, when this show is over the pictures are rolled up and packaged. The show is lightweight and designed to break down easily.
This exhibition, 34 images in total, has been touring the world since 2015. Think of empty commercial spaces, convention centers, warehouses.
By the way, it is the same company that manages Exhibition “The Art of Banksy” in the Federal Reserve Building in Seattle.
The images of the Sistine Chapel are reproduced at 80%, almost life-size. In theory, here’s your chance to study Michelangelo’s masterful paintings up close, instead of 70 feet above you on the ceiling. But it’s Michelangelo we’re talking about. His famous sculpture of David is deliberately out of proportion because you’re supposed to be viewing David from below. These frescoes were designed to be seen from afar.
I also saw the Seattle show “Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience,” which opened last October and is still running. I walked in skeptical and left truly impressed. For this show, they took something small (the real “Starry Night” is puny) and made it bigger, grander, more exciting. This Sistine Chapel show, however, takes a monumental work and scales it down to flimsy reproductions.
Michelangelo didn’t even want to paint the Sistine Chapel to begin with. He considered himself a sculptor. On the Sistine Chapel contract, he voluntarily signed it, “Michelangelo scultore” (Michelangelo the sculptor). If he saw that imitation now, yuck.