The Georgia Straight
Exhibit brings Sistine Chapel images to Vancouver
The Sistine Chapel at the Vatican is home to one of the greatest artistic accomplishments in history. It was there in the 16th century that Michelangelo created 33 colourful religious frescoes on the ceiling. The Italian artist also painted The Last Judgement on the altar wall, depicting the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
These spectacular works of art have attracted millions of viewers over the centuries and been the subject of countless books, movies, essays, and art-history classes. But when Martin Biallas, CEO of See Attractions Special Entertainment Events, paid a visit 10 years ago, he came away a little disappointed. And it wasn’t only due to the long lineups.
“Once you’re inside, you have 2,000 people screaming and yelling,” Biallas told the Straight by phone from Los Angeles. “You’ve got these massive pieces—60 feet high— and you cannot take photos. They’re very militant about that. Then after 15 minutes, you have to leave.”
He emphasized that people should still see Michelangelo’s original frescoes because they’re so magnificent. But he thought that if his company could obtain the licensing rights, it could re-create all 33 masterpieces and The Last Judgement in their original size. This would enable people to see them up close without security guards ordering them to put away their cameras.
On November 19, Biallas’s company opened a show at Vancouver Convention Centre East offering this opportunity. Called Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition, it features high-resolution images of the 34 paintings created by the master nearly five centuries ago.
“We actually had the world premiere six years ago, in 2015, at the Palais des congrès in Montreal,” Biallas said.
Since then, this exhibition has toured the world, from Vienna to New York to Brisbane to Shanghai. It’s also been shown in four Chinese cities with the next stop scheduled in Beijing. According to Biallas, this was the first religious exhibition ever permitted in Communist China.
Biallas is used to putting on large-scale, themed exhibits. His Los Angeles–based production company has already created Star Trek: The Tour, Tutankhamun: His Tomb and His Treasures, The Titanic Official Movie Tour, the Complete Frida Kahlo Exhibit, The Art of Banksy: Without Limits, and Museum of Failure.
Biallas said that it took several years to obtain the licensing rights from the Vatican for images of Michelangelo’s frescoes. “You would send an email and you would wait for six weeks,” he related, “and you would get a reply by mail with a big Vatican seal.”
The return address impressed his letter carrier. “I thought he was going to have a heart attack,” Biallas said. “He thought it was from the Pope.”
Eventually, See Attractions ended up negotiating with Bridgeman Images, which represents the Vatican.
“That’s basically how we got this,” Biallas said. “In fact, we just renewed the licence for another five years.”
See Attractions presents Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition at Exhibit Hall A of Vancouver Convention Centre East from Wednesdays through Sundays.