It all began with a less-than-ideal visit to the Sistine Chapel in Rome.
“I didn’t really enjoy the experience,” recalls Martin Biallas, founder and CEO of Special Entertainment Events. “There were long lines and 2,000 people. You couldn’t take photos and the guards were very militant about it.”
Even worse, the incredible ceiling frescos by Michelangelo were so high that it was hard to see them clearly. Biallas envisioned a wholly different viewing experience of the masterpieces: up close and personal, and with a soundtrack of classical music.
Six years later, Special Entertainment Events’ Sistine Chapel exhibit has toured around the world, from Shanghai to Vienna. Its next stop: Mall of America. The mall has carved out 10,000-plus square feet of space never before open to the public for this exhibit, which has been on view since Nov. 13, but closed temporarily Nov. 20 due to Governor Walz’s executive order. It will reopen Jan. 14 with plans to stay open through Easter. The exhibit’s location on level two of the north atrium has no windows, making it a suitable venue for spotlit views of Michelangelo’s masterpieces.
Biallas, the man behind other large-scale exhibits, like the touring Tutankhamun: His Tomb And His Treasures and the Titanic Official Movie Tour, gave the same attention to detail to this project. At “Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition,” the nearly life-sized reproductions are printed from high resolution images on special fabric meant to evoke the painted plaster of the Sistine Chapel. Though a number of painters contributed to the chapel’s striking interior, this exhibit focuses on Michelangelo’s famous works. Perched atop extremely high scaffolding to reach the 65-foot ceiling, the Italian Renaissance artist painted 33 frescos depicting scenes from the Old Testament between 1508 and 1512. He returned to the chapel from 1536 to 1541, then in his mid-60s, to complete the “Last Judgment.”
Visitors will surely recognize some of the classic works, including the unmistakable index fingers on the cusp of touching from the celebrated fresco “The Creation of Man,” and the “Last Judgment,” depicting a triumphant Jesus at the center of the fresco, directly behind the chapel’s altar.
The exhibition’s recreations mimic the chapel’s walls following intense restorations in the 1980s and 1990s. The project removed years of dust and soot, and left the works much more crisp and vibrant in color. Biallas promises an up-close experience that would otherwise be impossible at the real Sistine Chapel “unless you build your own scaffolding and get up there,” he says.
Biallas says the largest fresco of the exhibit—a dimensionally exact replica of the 41-by-41-foot “Last Judgment”—is too large for the exhibit space, so he is working with the mall to find another area of MOA to showcase it. A smaller 14-by-14-foot reproduction is still on view within the exhibit.
In another departure from Italy’s Sistine Chapel experience, a curated playlist of classical choral music from composers like Mozart plays on a two-hour loop in the exhibit to enhance its church-like experience. For history buffs, there is a guided smart phone audio experience available in four languages.
The mall assures that “Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition” is complying with the Center for Disease Control’s in-person event guidelines. MOA is limiting the number of people in the space to 85 and requiring visitors to wear masks and abide by social distancing protocols.
Tickets are available at chapelsistine.com and will also be available at the door. General tickets are $19, and $14 for seniors, college students and military veterans. Children 6 and under will receive free admission.