Touch God's finger at the Sistine Chapel exhibit in Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Touch God's finger at the Sistine Chapel exhibit in Pittsburgh

click to enlarge A series of Michelangelo reproductions are set up in an otherwise unadorned event space.
Photo: SEE Attractions and Bridgeman Images
Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition
Apparently, you don't have to visit Italy to see great Renaissance art. Soon, Pittsburgh residents will get to experience the awe-inspiring work of Michelangelo like never before: in a mall.

A traveling exhibition will transform the second floor of the Ross Park Mall JCPenney into the Sistine Chapel as a way to bring Michelangelo's divine ceiling frescos to audiences across the United States. A release claims that the show, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition, will allow guests to get face-to-face with 34 "museum-quality, near-life-size reproductions" of centuries-old paintings like "The Creation of Adam" and "The Last Judgement."

Presented by SEE Global Entertainment and CBF Productions, the Pittsburgh leg of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition opens on Fri., Oct. 21, and runs through January 2023.

Martin Biallas, CEO of SEE Global Entertainment, the Los Angeles-based company that produced the exhibit, says the show "gives visitors a chance to engage with Rome’s most iconic treasures in ways that were never before possible."

"This exhibition is like a sanctuary, you're transported into a completely different world," says Biallas. “When I visited the Sistine Chapel in Rome, there were long lines, and we were rushed through. This exhibit in Pittsburgh will allow everyone an opportunity to see the amazing art at their pace and up close, at an affordable price, and enjoy an inspiring and unforgettable experience.”

As suggested in promotional images, the show will provide plenty of opportunities for guests to create Instagram magic, including getting close enough to
The Creation of Adam that they can "touch God's finger." The extremely famous painting, completed around 1512, depicts the Biblical Adam reaching out to a bearded God hovering above, their outstretched fingers on the verge of making contact.

The show falls in with the recent trend of creating "immersive" experiences around famous artists, the most notable being Vincent van Gogh. Various traveling exhibitions, including a long-anticipated one in Pittsburgh, use giant projections and other elements in an attempt to enhance van Gogh's most iconic works, including "Sunflowers" and "The Starry Night." A similar exhibition focused on Mexican artist Frida Kahlo followed and also had a run in Pittsburgh.

Biallas claims that previous Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel exhibitions saw sold-out openings in Austin, Cleveland, Portland, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Dallas "in recent months."

Sold out as these shows may have been, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel has also received its share of criticism, mostly due to a growing belief that these large-scale, tech-heavy experiences only serve to cheapen major works of art into little more than giant selfie stations. Tapestry, an arts publication in Charlotte, N.C., summarized the majesty of Michelangelo's actual frescoes before shruggingly saying "for less than 20 bucks, you can catch a glimpse of them in an old, empty mill building in west Charlotte." (It's worth noting that the Pittsburgh van Gogh and Kahlo shows took place in an old warehouse.) A Seattle Times review got straight to the point with, "It's tacky," before going into more detail.

There's also the questionable, but seemingly prolific backgrounds of the producing companies, neither of which appear to have any art history expertise. SEE Global Entertainment touts itself as a "family of companies representing the finest in themed entertainment" and specializing in "global touring exhibitions" covering everything from Star Trek and Michael Jackson to King Tut and the Titanic. They also tout producing the Museum of Failure, the Disgusting Food Museum, and The Art of Banksy: Without Limits, a confounding concept given Banksy's whole anti-gallery, anti-commodification schtick.

CBF Productions lays claim to a number of festivals and Concerts in Your Car, described as "California's first 'in your car' and socially distanced live events series."

Still, given continuing fears around COVID-19 and the cost of international travel, this might be the only chance for many to experience some of the most spectacular works of the Renaissance. Plus, it will make for one heck of a selfie for the 'gram.

Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition. Fri., Oct. 21-Jan. 22, 2023. Ross Park Mall. 1000 Ross Park Mall Drive, North Hills. $18-$32.50.