God, saints, angels – and the most famous outstretched hands in world history – reach out to you, larger than life in “Sistine Chapel: The Exhibit” at the Connecticut Convention Center.
The art exhibit, billed as “a life-size, up-close, never-before-seen perspective,” opened Thursday evening and will be held in Hartford through June 26. Created by SEE Global Entertainment, it has been touring since mid-2015 and there are now five separate “Sistine Chapel” tours in the United States alone.
A dozen gigantic images line each long wall of the rectangular space. They are stand-alone images of the Sistine Chapel’s vast ceiling frescoes, and they allow viewers to focus on details such as Christ’s ancestors, who get their own portraits, including Jesse, Asa, Joniah, and Ezechias.
They are on separate stands and each has descriptive text on a panel next to it. The signs each have a place to activate the spoken description on a personal listening device. You can walk away from the images while hearing the audio descriptions. The text was written expressly for this exhibition by Californian art historian Joanne Carruba.
The room is dimly lit, with individual lights illuminating each large panel.
Reproductions of eight long Sistine Chapel ceiling panels hang from scaffolding from above, allowing attendees to view the art in a vaguely similar way to seeing it in the chapel.
Having the “Sistine Chapel” at the convention center means there is room for the whole exhibition.
“We can’t always do the ceiling murals,” says SEE associate producer Eric Leong, who was in town for the unveiling. “We need to have high ceilings.”
But it’s the giant vertical panels that offer the freshest angle on Michelangelo.
“People who have been to the Sistine Chapel,” says Leong, “say it can be hard to see. It makes you discover art.
At one end of the room is a 13-foot-tall reproduction of “The Last Judgment,” the only image in the exhibit that’s smaller than the original, which measures 40 by 45 feet.
At the other end of the space is the Sistine Chapel’s best-known image, “The Creation of Adam,” which shows God surrounded by angels, pointing a finger at a reclining Adam.
A merchandise area features “The Creation of Adam” images printed on cosmetic bags, laptop cases, tote bags and t-shirts.
Leong says “The Creation of Adam” gets a top spot 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 opted for existing digital photos archived by Bridgeman Images. Enlargements are made using SEG (Silicone Edge Graphics) technology.
An animated film is also projected at the back 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 performed its shows at “many 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 show in Connecticut. Previous visits to “Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel” on the East Coast have included New York, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Paramus, New Jersey, and, in a reduced form, The Big E in West Springfield in 2017. Negotiations for bringing the exhibit to a new city can take up to a year, Leong says. Hartford’s arrangements lasted about 10 months.
The room also has a few chairs and benches. “We know we’re not the original [Sistine Chapel]. What we can offer you is a place to sit,” says Leong.
Leong says attendance at the expo, based on other cities, may 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 Vienna, Austria.
The popularity of exhibits like “Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel” has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, Leong says.
Connecticut Convention Center general manager Michael Costelli said his team was already considering exhibits like this when SEE approached them last year.
“We knew we had to do something different. We had a lot of space and we had to be open.
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Costelli calls Michelangelo’s installation a “home run” for the centre. “For safety during COVID, this is a non-contact exhibit.”
The center will host “Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience”, from another production company, from August to October. She also plans to work again with SEE, possibly for a new exhibition “Temps highlights du Louvre”.
Father Edward Przygocki of Holy Apostles College & Seminary in Cromwell attended Thursday’s reception.
“As a priest, it’s a wonderful opportunity to see part of the Vatican,” says Przygocki, who has seen the Vatican and the actual Sistine Chapel and met three popes. “What’s amazing is that you can almost touch the paintings, see them up close, appreciate the movement of the art.”
“Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibit” is on display through June 26 at the Connecticut Convention Center, 100 Columbus Blvd., Hartford. Visiting hours are Wednesday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. $20.20; $17.10 for seniors, students and military; $14.40 for children 4 to 12 years old. Souvenir ticket packages, with a program and a postcard, cost $30.20 for adults, $24.40 for seniors, students and military. chapelsistine.com.
Christopher Arnott can be reached at [email protected].