By Christopher Arnott
From Hartford Courant
HARTFORD, Conn.—God, saints, angels—and the most famous outstretched hands in world history—are reaching out to you, larger than life in “Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition” at the Connecticut Convention Center.
The art exhibit, billed as “a life-size, up close, never before seen perspective,” will be in Hartford through June 26. Created by SEE Global Entertainment, it has been touring since mid-2015 and there are now five separate tours of “Sistine Chapel” in the United States alone.
A dozen gigantic images line each long wall of of the rectangular space. These are stand-alone images from the vast Sistine Chapel ceiling frescoes, and they let viewers focus on such details as the ancestors of Christ, who get their own portraits, including Jesse, Asa, Joniah, and Ezechias.
They are on separate stands, and each has descriptive text on a signboard next to it. The signs each have a place to activate the spoken description on a personal listening device. You can walk far away from the images and still hear the audio descriptions. The text was written expressly for this exhibition by California-based art historian Joanne Carruba.
The room is dimly lit, with individual lights illuminating each large panel.
Hanging on scaffolding from above are reproductions of eight long ceiling panels from the Sistine Chapel, letting attendees look up at the art in a manner vaguely similar to viewing it in the chapel.
Having “Sistine Chapel” at the convention center means there’s room for the entire exhibition.
“We can’t always do the ceiling frescoes,” says Eric Leong, SEE’s associate producer, who was in town for the unveiling. “We need to have tall ceilings.”
But it’s the giant upright panels that offer the freshest angle on Michelangelo.
“People who’ve been to the Sistine Chapel,” Leong says, “say it can be hard to see. This brings the art down to you.”
At one end of the room is a 13-foot-tall reproduction of “The Last Judgement,” the one image in the exhibition which is smaller than the original, which is 40 by 45 feet.
At the other end of the space is the single best-known image from the Sistine Chapel, “The Creation of Adam,” which shows God surrounded by angels, reaching a finger out toward a reclining Adam.
A merchandise area offers images of “The Creation of Adam” printed onto cosmetics bags, laptop cases, canvas bags, and T-shirts.
Leong says “The Creation of Adam” gets a prominent placing because “so many people want to take selfies with it.” He says the company was initially in contact with the Vatican about the exhibit, “but they ghosted us,” so SEE went with existing digital photos archived by Bridgeman Images. The blow-ups are done using SEG (Silicone Edge Graphics) technology.
There’s also a lively film being projected at the far end of the space, an episode of the web series “Artrageous with Nate” devoted to Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel. This pre-existing film was licensed for use with this exhibit.
Leong says SEE has been bringing its shows into “a lot of convention centers since COVID. It’s easier for us. Convention centers have space to fill, and we can enter into partnerships.”
This is SEE’s first exhibit in Connecticut. Previous East Coast visits of “Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel” have included New York City, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Paramus, New Jersey, and, in a reduced form, at the Big E in West Springfield in 2017. Negotiations to bring the exhibition to a new city can take as long as a year, Leong says. The Hartford arrangements took about 10 months.
The room also features a few chairs and benches. “We know we’re not the original (Sistine Chapel). Something we can offer you is a place to sit,” Leong says.
Leong says attendance at the exhibition, based on other cities, can be “between 10,000 and 25,000 per month.” He says that in the United States, Chicago has been the most popular city for “Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel,” while globally it’s been Vienna, Austria.
The popularity of exhibitions like “Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel” grew during the COVID-19 pandemic, Leong says.
Connecticut Convention Center’s general manager Michael Costelli says his team was already considering exhibitions like this when SEE approached them last year.
“We knew we had to do something different. We had a lot of space and we needed to be open.”
Costelli calls the Michelangelo installation “a home run” for the center. “For safety during COVID, this is a touchless exhibit.”
The center will host “Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience,” from a different production company, from August to October. It is also planning to work with SEE again, possibly for a new “Highlights of the Louvre” exhibition.
Father Edward Przygocki of Holy Apostles College & Seminary in Cromwell attended Thursday’s reception.
“As a priest, this is a wonderful opportunity to see some of the Vatican,” says Przygocki, who has seen the Vatican and the actual Sistine Chapel and met three popes. “What’s amazing about this is that you can almost touch the paintings, see them close, appreciate the movement of the art.”
“Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition”
The exhibit runs through June 26 at the Connecticut Convention Center, 100 Columbus Blvd., Hartford. Visiting hours are Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. $20.20; $17.10 for seniors, students, and military; $14.40 for children aged 4-12. Souvenir ticket packages, with a program book and a postcard are $30.20 for adults, $24.40 for seniors, students, and military. chapelsistine.com
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