Exhibition review

BELLEVUE — It’s Michelangelo. How could you go wrong with Michelangelo?

Apparently, you can.

A show featuring reproductions of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel paintings opened at The Bravern in Bellevue last Friday. While the concept is intriguing, the execution falls short.

Renaissance master Michelangelo Buonarroti’s famous frescoes, finished in 1512, depict the relationship between humanity and God. The frescoes are literally plastered to the ceiling in Vatican City. Completely immobile. ”Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition” brings images of the Sistine Chapel to a location more convenient to you.

I asked Sylvia Noland, business development manager at SEE Global Entertainment, where the idea for the show came from. She told me CEO Martin Biallas visited the Sistine Chapel a decade ago, and his experience was less than satisfying. He stood in line for two hours, got 15 minutes to look at the frescoes and got his phone confiscated because pictures are prohibited.

Pro of the Bravern show: You can take all the time and pictures you want.

Con: It’s tacky.

The Sistine Chapel exhibition is set up in the former Neiman Marcus space at The Bravern, neighboring the Prada, Gucci and Louis Vuitton boutiques. But when you walk into the exhibition, it doesn’t feel high end and exclusive. It feels like someone blew up grainy pictures of an iconic work of art. There are foam-core poster boards next to each image. There are even empty clothing racks hanging around, at least during the exhibition preview I went to last Thursday. It really takes away from the ambience.

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Surprisingly, the 9-foot-tall reproductions are standing against the wall, not on the ceiling. Yes, you’d have to crane your neck, but that’s a big part of the Sistine Chapel experience. The same exhibit came through Tacoma in 2018, where images were indeed hung on the ceiling.

The exhibition says it’s for all ages. FYI, there is a lot of nudity (this is art) and violence (this is the Bible). There is an audio guide that explains the biblical story behind each image. You have to download an app and scan a QR code to access it.

I brought along a friend, Kristin Alexander, who’s been 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 on Amazon and it looked like this.”

Ouch.

When I told her tickets cost 20 bucks, she actually cackled.

The real Sistine Chapel, she said, is a completely different experience.

“I’ve seen a lot of beautiful things in my life,” she said. “This was the prettiest. I just remember being so incredibly in awe of this masterpiece. Every detail. Utterly surrounded by it.

“When I saw the Sistine Chapel, it brought tears to my eyes, and I’m not even religious. And this” — gesturing around the Bravern exhibition — “makes me laugh.”

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I haven’t seen the Sistine Chapel in person — someday! But in high school, I had a “Creation of Adam” poster. Like my old poster, when this show is over, the images get rolled up and packed out. The show is lightweight and designed to break down easily.

This exhibition, 34 images altogether, has been touring the world since 2015. Think empty mall spaces, convention centers, warehouses.

Incidentally, this is the same company that is running ”The Art of Banksy” exhibition in Seattle’s Federal Reserve Building.

The Sistine Chapel images are reproduced at 80%, nearly life-size. In theory, here’s an opportunity to study Michelangelo’s masterful paintings up close, instead of 70 feet above you on the ceiling. But this is Michelangelo we’re talking about. His celebrated sculpture of David is deliberately mis-proportioned because you’re meant to view David from below. These frescoes were designed to be viewed from a distance.

I also saw the Seattle “Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience” show, which opened last October and is still running. I walked in skeptical and left genuinely impressed. For that 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 reduces it to flimsy reproductions.

Michelangelo didn’t even want to paint the Sistine Chapel to begin with. He considered himself a sculptor. On the contract for the Sistine Chapel, he purposely signed it, “Michelangelo scultore” (Michelangelo the sculptor). If he saw this imitation now, yikes.

“Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition”

Tuesdays-Sundays (10 a.m. to last entry at 6 p.m.) through Oct. 30; The Shops at The Bravern (in the former Neiman Marcus store), 11111 N.E. Eighth St., Suite 100, Bellevue; tickets start at $21 for adults, $14.70 for children 4-12; parking is free (bring your parking ticket from the garage to be validated), wheelchair accessible; chapelsistine.com/exhibits/seattle

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