When Martin Biallas visited Rome some time ago, he expected that his tour of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City would let him experience the artistic grandeur of Michelangelo’s ceiling frescoes in all their ornate glory.
The story goes that what he experienced was a four-hour line, a ban on taking photographs, and a fleeting look at the ceiling, 60 feet above, before being ushered out after only 15 minutes.
That experience on a trip to Rome is what inspired Biallas, CEO of Special Entertainment Events (SEE), to create “Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition.” It’s a traveling, life-size re-creation of the artist’s frescoes — 34 reproductions in all, bringing such images as “The Creation of Adam” and “David and Goliath” down to earth where mortals can see them in detail.
The exhibition opened Friday, April 29, in The Gateway shopping center — downstairs from Flanker Kitchen + Sporting Club — at 16 N. Rio Grande, Salt Lake City. It will be there through June 19. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, and noon to 4:30 p.m. on Sundays; closed Mondays and Tuesdays. The visit usually takes between 60 and 90 minutes.
Tickets for the exhibition are $23 per adult, with discounts available for students, military and seniors. They can be purchased at feverup.com/salt-lake-city.
Biallas licensed the images from the Vatican seven years ago, according to Sylvia Noland, business development director for the traveling show. Michelangelo’s images — created between 1508 and 1512 on a commission from Pope Julius II — were captured with high-resolution photography, and transferred to canvas through a technique called “deco tech.”
The canvases show the brush strokes, the crumbling textures of the plaster — an integral part of the frescoes, which were created by applying pigment to wet plaster and mixing in the color. The high-resolution images allow the colors to look more saturated.
Noland said that when she visited the chapel, “When I left [it] was kind of like, ‘Well, who were the people up there?’ You know, I’d like to know who they are.”
Those questions are answered by the exhibition’s audio element. When visitors enter the exhibition, they are handed listening devices. They can point the device at a black box on an explanation card next to each image, and hear a description.
“You go up and you listen and it tells you what the story is behind the painting and why the Pope and Michelangelo chose these subjects and what significance they play in history,” Noland said. “That’s the best part about this whole thing.”
Younger viewers may find the audio system cumbersome, and the explanations a bit long. For visitors who wear hearing aids they can pair them with the audio guide, and adjust the volume as needed.
The exhibit ends with the most famous images from the Sistine Chapel: Michelangelo’s depictions of scenes from the book of Genesis, including God’s creation of Adam and of Eve, their expulsion from Eden, Noah’s sacrifice and the flood. The panels are suspended from the room’s ceilings, so visitors can experience the same neck strain they might have seeing the real works.
The exhibition room’s ceiling is industrial, with exposed rafters and all — a minimalist approach, apparently to avoid distracting from Michelangelo’s art.
The Sistine Chapel exhibition is the latest in a chain of traveling art exhibitions, including displays of Vincent Van Gogh and Frida Kahlo, that aim to bring great art to large numbers of people — redefining the idea of who can experience such classic artworks.
Not everyone can afford a trip to Italy to see the Sistine Chapel, Noland said. Also, the exhibit allows the luxury of time that isn’t available at The Vatican — which sees an estimated 30,000 tourists a day, or 6 million a year.
“This way, I can sit here as long as I want and study this painting and enjoy it,” said Noland, whose favorite is the image of David and Goliath. “That’s really what enjoying art is all about.”
Some paintings may have a throng of people trying to take photos for their social media accounts, Noland said. “Everybody,” she joked, “wants to stand and have their photo touching God’s finger.”
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