In spring 2016 my wife, Mary, and I saw “Van Gogh’s Bedrooms” at The Art Institute of Chicago.

Mary paints in oil and is a huge fan of van Gogh’s work. She was the impetus for the trip.

Vincent Willem van Gogh was a Dutch Post-Impressionist painter. He is known as one of the most influential and famous painters in history.

He was born in 1853 in Zundert, Netherlands, and died in 1890 in Auvers-sur-Oise, France.

I think part of the reason van Gogh became so famous was because he was such a tortured soul.

Before he finally decided to become a painter, he had already been through two romantic relationships that ended badly and failed as a bookstore clerk, art salesman and preacher.

He started painting in 1885. In 1886 he moved to Paris to hang out with other impressionist painters. But van Gogh proved tough to be around, once pursuing his friend artist Paul Gaughin with a razor and then lopping off a portion of his own ear.

Suffering from depression, van Gough was sent to an asylum in 1888.

According to biographical material on the Van Gogh Gallery website, In May of 1890, after a couple of years at the asylum, he seemed much better and went to live in Auvers-sur-Oise under the watchful eye of Dr. Paul Gachet. Two months later, he died from what is believed to have been a self-inflicted gunshot wound "for the good of all."

During his brief career, he did not experience much success, he sold only one painting, lived in poverty, malnourished and overworked. The money he had was supplied by his brother, Theo, and was used primarily for art supplies, coffee and cigarettes.

Van Gogh's finest works were produced in less than three years in a technique that grew more and more impassioned in brushstroke, in symbolic and intense color, in surface tension, and in the movement and vibration of form and line. Van Gogh's inimitable fusion of form and content is powerful; dramatic, lyrically rhythmic, imaginative, and emotional, for the artist was completely absorbed in the effort to explain either his struggle against madness or his comprehension of the spiritual essence of man and nature.

I don’t know about all that, but I do know it was pretty amazing seeing his work exhibited.

Here’s what The Art Institute of Chicago had to say about the exhibit:

Vincent van Gogh’s bedroom in Arles is arguably the most famous chambre in the history of art. It also held special significance for the artist, who created three distinct paintings of this intimate space from 1888 to 1889. This exhibition – presented only at the Art Institute of Chicago – brings together all three versions of The Bedroom for the first time in North America, offering a pioneering and in-depth study of their making and meaning to van Gogh in his relentless quest for home.

There were 30 or so other van Gogh works on display. It was really quite an intense afternoon.

All this comes to mind for a couple of reasons.

First, we bought a large print that day that had all three bedrooms depicted.

The idea was to get it framed, but it got stashed away behind the door of the spare bedroom and was largely forgotten. That is  until – voila! – I stumbled across it a few weeks ago and decided to get it framed and give it to Mary for a Christmas present.

It’s pretty big, so I didn’t wrap it. I just brought it home a couple of days before Christmas and hung it in place of a print by Israeli artist Itzchak Tarkay that was hanging in the living room.

She really liked it.

The other reason I started thinking about art and exhibits and museums is because of recent efforts by a local group to turn the old city building into a museum.

We’ve had a couple of stories about how Lakeland Art Association officials have met with city officials to discuss the possibility.

The art folks say the old city building would be a good spot for a fine art museum.

They want it to be a tourist destination and say it would dovetail nicely with the Wagon Wheel and other local attractions.

They say the museum could charge admission with certain days set aside for free admission. They say the art association could host workshops and open a gift shop so the museum would be self-supporting and not have to be funded by taxpayers.

They say there are noteworthy works of art locally available that could be exhibited and create quite a draw.  They name-dropped Picasso and Monet.

“This isn’t just a place for Lakeland Art Association to hang some of their art. This is a huge, huge project that could have a tremendous impact,” said Dave Taylor, a Lakeland Art Association board member.

I admire the enthusiasm of the local art group, and on the face of it, the pitch doesn’t sound too bad.

I will be interested to see how it all plays out because the project is not without some significant hurdles.

First of all, it’s been a long time since I’ve been inside the old city building, but I don’t recall its floorplan to be highly conducive to museum exhibits. So even if the city gifted the building to the art association, some fairly significant remodeling would need to be done.

And if we’re talking about housing Picassos and Monets, we’re talking serious remodeling – including security and climate control.

On top of that, the building needs roof work and there have been reports of mold problems following some leaks, which also could be a bit costly for the association.

The commitment to making the museum self-supporting with no need for local tax dollars is admirable.

But even if the association could raise enough money to repair and renovate, and make enough money running programs and charging admissions to cover operations, there still could be a  taxpayer consideration.

Why?

Because if the city sold the  old city building to a private entity, it would go back on the tax rolls and generate income – even if it was torn down and turned into a parking lot.

Don’t misunderstand. I have a fondness for art.

I would love to be able to walk a couple of blocks east on Market Street on my lunch break to see an original Picasso and Monet. I’m just trying to wrap my head around how that’s going to happen.