Sistine Chapel exhibit gives an unprecedented look at frescoes

BY Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

The COVID-19 pandemic has limited the ability to travel, so Special Entertainment Events Inc. brought a piece of the Vatican to The Croft in Downtown Phoenix.

“Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition” began its three-month run on November 20 at the 17,000-square-foot venue, which accommodates physical distancing. Guests will be required to wear a mask at all times after purchasing timed tickets.

The immersive art exhibit features 10,000 square feet of the artist’s frescoes that adorn the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The 34 panels of frescoes were produced in their near-original size. Among these reproductions are masterpieces like “The Creation of Adam” and “The Last Judgment.”

“We are thrilled to bring this exhibit to Downtown Phoenix and the state of Arizona for the first time,” says Martin Biallas, CEO of Los Angeles-based SEE Global Entertainment, producer of the Sistine Chapel exhibit.

“People all over the world have been amazed to see Michelangelo’s work up close in such detail, and we’re glad the people of this state and region will have that opportunity as well.”

Biallas is the original creator of the award-winning “Titanic” and “Star Trek” exhibitions, which visited Scottsdale and Phoenix, respectively.

“We are overjoyed at the opportunity to host this unique experience for the region,” says Angela Karp, co-owner of The Croft Downtown.

“Health and safety remain the highest priority, so our exhibition will be equally as safe as it is spectacular.”

Guests may enhance the experience with a downloadable premium optional audio guide, with accompanying narrative available in English and Spanish.

Adding to the experience, the exhibit features a small theater showing educational videos about Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel.

Finding success

Biallas has hosted this exhibit for five years; it opened in Montreal in 2015. He says he wanted to bring it to Phoenix but couldn’t find an appropriate venue.

“I’ve done a lot of projects here in Phoenix, like ‘Titanic’ and ‘Star Trek’ over at the science museum,” he says. “This is not something for the science museum, obviously. We have four units that are touring.”

Biallas is hoping the public isn’t afraid to visit because of COVID-19.

“This is the type of exhibit where you can actually stay distanced,” he says. “We limit the number of people inside per hour.

“This is almost like a sanctuary. You come in here and you just leave everything behind. We have this beautiful music. We have these gorgeous frescoes that Michelangelo worked on for five years.”

At the Sistine Chapel, photos are not permitted. The Croft and the exhibit are allowing cameras. A big hit among visitors is pointing a finger at “The Creation of Adam” or the photo op with angel wings.

“It’s obviously a wonderful experience, the original,” he says. “I came up with the idea after a visit and thought, ‘If we can get the licensing and recreate these in the original size for people to see up close and have a wonderful audio guide, that would be amazing.”

The 90-minute audio guide is available through an app. The exhibit is perfect for anyone who’s stressed over COVID, those who aren’t religious, art patrons and history fans, he says.

“This is almost like you’re walking at 15 feet underneath the ceiling,” he says. “You’re that close. It’s from a perspective that even a pope has never seen. Obviously, you can’t get up to the scaffolding.”