From the moment I first saw the ads online, I knew I wanted to get tickets to the Immersive Van Gogh art exhibit when it came to Los Angeles. It was a leap of faith for us because the show came here in the fall and winter of 2021, and we were just in the process of getting our COVID vaccines. Our tickets were for December, and we had high hopes that this would be the first of many indoor art experiences as the risk waned.
Well, we were half right.
It was the first indoor event we went to after our vaccinations were complete. And the rules were strictly enforced – we had to show our vaccination cards (you could also use negative test results), wear masks, and there was timed entry (which actually makes the experience more enjoyable anyway.
The Immersive Van Gogh Entrance
Every city has a slightly different Immersive Van Gogh art exhibit. I’m assuming this is true for the other immersive art exhibits I’ve seen adverts for, such as the Klimt or Monet ones. This is because it very much relies on the venue. In Los Angeles, they staged the exhibit to slowly bring you into the immersive experience. We started by going through a series of frames – almost like going down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland.
The outer exhibit was static. You could read Van Gogh’s quotes and letters to give you a background for the art you were about to see. I enjoyed learning more about him and his life. I didn’t love having to do a scan to get the digital letters, but I was willing to give it a try. It worked, but I would have preferred that to be easier to do on an older phone. As it was, fumbling with my phone and scrolling took me out of the exhibit and back to cursing my old phone.
The First Dynamic Room
But it did prepare us to go into the first dynamic room. When I say dynamic, I mean the art being projected on the walls moved. There was also sound being piped into the space. While not on the floor when we first walked in, the shifting wall against the otherwise dark room left me disoriented. Not exactly dizzy, but I wanted to put my hand on the wall to steady myself as the artwork “wall” slid by us. Luckily, my brain made the adjustment quickly, and we were able to move into the main room.
Here, the space opened, and the full Immersive Van Gogh exhibit began. The designers had wrapped the support pillars in mirrored coverings, so there was no immediate visual disruption. As we stepped into the space, the projections covered the floors and the walls. The sound design supported the transitioning artwork, and with the exception of the ceiling, you really did feel the art all around you.
And it was utterly overwhelming. It was the first time in a year and a half that we had a genuinely collective experience. I must admit that I got a bit teary – not just because the artwork was beautiful but because I was experiencing it with others.
We chose a bench, sat down, and let the visuals and the sounds wash over us. For a couple of minutes, I also sat down in one of the designated circles to see what it would feel like to have the projection all around me on the floor as well as the walls. We even went upstairs to get a bird’s eye view of the projections below.
Reactions to the Immersive Van Gogh
Did you feel like you were walking into a Van Gogh painting? No. When they say immersive, that isn’t really want they mean. It is more a reflection of being surrounded by an audio design inspired by Van Gogh and seeing the artwork as it transitioned in front of and below you. You don’t forget where you are, but it is perhaps a richer experience than you might have had seeing a single painting in a museum. Although you can’t see the details – such as the brushwork – in the projections. How you will react to this kind of presentation really depends on what you want from an art exhibit.
I’m unsure if we will continue to see the immersive art exhibits, although I hear the Klimt is outstanding. The Immersive Van Gogh was an adventure I’m glad we had, but we also already knew that artwork reasonably well. I don’t know if being exposed to less familiar art pieces or artists in this way would inspire. I am definitely curious to hear what the Immersive Van Gogh Chicago (and other cities) was like.