For two years now, I have been preoccupied with Van Gogh in pop culture. The copyright on Van Gogh images expired 70 years after the artist's death (1890), which would be 1960. Since then countless reprints of Van Gogh paintings have been made - millions, billions if you count all the digital copies. Van Gogh is everywhere! In fact, he is one of the most famous artists of all times.
This project started with a small question: so where do all of these Van Gogh reprints end up? Nobody keeps a list of all the mugs, posters, pens, magnets, t-shirts and murals that take after Van Gogh images. More questions followed: which paintings are most popular in which parts of the world? Secretly, I also wondered: does the mass reproduction of Van Gogh images and merchandise sales have anything to do with Van Gogh's popularity? Or is it the other way around?
Often I get asked the question: do you even like Van Gogh? Or are you more interested in the Crunchy, Crunchy Night made out of fruit loops in a high school in Utah - the largest Van Gogh installation ever (2010)? Why sure, Van Gogh speaks to me too! But I am especially interested in the way in which Van Gogh seems to speak to so many people across cultures and generations. Van Gogh is everywhere, but he doesn't seem to belong anywhere in particular. He has his roots in the Netherlands. But how Dutch was he? How Dutch are the paintings he made in France? And if enough Japanese, French and Americans love Van Gogh, isn't he also part of Japan, France and America too?
Instead of answering these questions in my comfy armchair, I set out to create a crowdsourcing locative media platform. The idea is simple: send in your picture of a Van Gogh image with a geotag of where it is located - preferably, with a description of what it is and what it means to you. Together we can create the largest Van Gogh collection on the planet, in the form of an interactive map.
After winning the DOEN clinic for our pitch, we had the opportunity to fine-tune the vision for this project. Our dreams got bigger: we wanted to have a real photo exhibition at the end of the web project. For better or for worse, the start-up of this project got hit by the financial crisis. It seems that not many people want to pay for web-based art projects in this day and age. After a full year of searching for funding, with limited success, in september 2010 Stichting DOEN decided to support the project with EUR 25.000. Hooray! It sounds like oodles of money, but it's actually not quite enough to make a great interactive website, iphone and android apps, pay 10 photographers, make prints for a final exhibition, let alone finance a media campaign with international hubs.
The final verdict is a lean and mean web platform: a no-nonsense open-source Drupal website with two different views: a map interface, and a gallery interface. People can add their images through flickr, Facebook, tumblr, email or mobile upload. See here for a sneak preview with daily updates.
govangogh.org - coming soon, summer 2011