I keep picturing an earless and penniless Vincent Van Gogh, wandering incredulously through one of the dozens of immersive art exhibits that now bear his name. I keep wondering how the Dutch painter would feel, surrounded by huge images of his landscapes, his still lifes, his portraits. Could he ever have dreamed that his original work — more than 2,000 pieces of art — would someday be priceless or that 100 years after his death there’d be Starry Night coffee mugs, sunflower socks, umbrellas sprinkled with almond blossoms and Christmas ornaments in the form of adorable little Vincents?
The famous artist, who after his suicide at age 37 became one of most influential figures in Western art history, is one of the superstars of the day, with a variety of sold-out exhibits currently underway throughout the world. They’re now in our neck-of-the-woods as well: Indianapolis, Cleveland, Columbus, Chicago, Detroit, Nashville and Pittsburgh.
Exhibit titles vary, but the ones that use the term “immersive” indicate you’ll find yourself enveloped in ceiling-to-floor digital images of his famous paintings. “I want to touch people with my art,” Van Gogh once stated, but he never could have guessed that museum patrons would someday be enveloped in his artwork literally.
Folks from the Miami Valley have been heading to The Lume Indianapolis, an impressive immersive exhibit that opened in July and will run for at least a year. It takes up an entire floor at Newfields, the city’s major art museum.
Cleveland’s immersive exhibit is open and has already been extended through Feb. 6. Columbus will have two major exhibits devoted to Van Gogh: An immersive show opening Oct. 28 and running through Jan 2 at Lighthouse ArtSpace Columbus and a special exhibition at the Columbus Museum of Art entitled “Through Vincent’s Eyes: Van Gogh and his Sources” that will be on display from Nov. 12 through Feb. 6.
Other museums, like the Dayton Art Institute and the Cincinnati Art Museum, are showcasing original works by Van Gogh that are either on loan from other institutions or part of their permanent collections.
Why Van Gogh?
To discover why this particular artist is such a phenomenon, we reached out to those who know him best — experts at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. “Van Gogh’s paintings and their vivid colors speak to a lot of people,” a museum spokesman responded. “Van Gogh was a self-taught artist and he had a short but impressive life. Lots of people find inspiration in his works, words and story. It is the combination of his art and the knowledge we have about him which makes Vincent van Gogh a true inspiration to this day.”
In addition to having access to Van Gogh’s artworks, we know a lot about the famous artist’s life thanks to the letters owned by the Amsterdam museum. Van Gogh wrote more than 2,000, mainly to his brother. Theo. They explain a lot about his way of thinking and the art he wanted to make.
The Amsterdam folks are hoping a visit to one of the immersive shows will be a stepping-stone to seeing the original works. “We do believe that there is nothing more powerful than getting in touch with the real works of art,” the spokesman noted. “Not everyone is able to travel to our museum in Amsterdam. For them, an experience is an opportunity to learn more about Van Gogh and the story behind his world-famous paintings.”
He said the only official touring exhibit related to his museum is the “Meet Vincent Van Gogh Experience.” It’s a travelling, multidisciplinary show that focuses on the artist’s life story rather than his artwork and is inspired by the museum’s unique collection of personal letters. That show is not yet scheduled to come to the United States.
The immersive experience
I first heard about this new kind of art experience from a friend who’d been driving through France some years ago and happened upon a sign advertising Van Gogh’s artwork, which was projected on the walls of a cave. She raved about the exhibit, designed by Massimiliano Siccardi, with a soundtrack by Luca Longobardi. It’s that same team that’s bringing the show to Columbus.
A number of different international companies have gotten into the act as well, and though the technology is similar, the particulars vary. A few weeks ago, my husband and I spent a day at The Lume Indianapolis to see what all the fuss was about. This show, produced by Australian-based Grande Experiences, has been seen in more than 50 cities outside of the U.S. and, for the first time in this country, has found a permanent home in Indy where the entire fourth floor of Newfields has been reconfigured for the digital exhibit. Once it ends, in May of 2022, another digital art show featuring a different major artist will take its place. The museum has made a five-year commitment to the innovative format; a different notable artist will be featured each year.
“We look at this as a new form of art, a way to introduce new people to art,” explains Jonathan Berger, the museum’s deputy director of marketing and external affairs, who reminds us that it wasn’t that long ago that photography didn’t have a place in a museum. “We’re all different consumers and people consume art differently, especially young people. This exhibit is fully immersive. You feel like you are standing in a Van Gogh painting and it’s being painted around you.”
Credit: Robert Bayer
Credit: Robert Bayer
What to expect
Allow at least an hour to tour the exhibit. The centerpiece of the show is a 360-degree experience that runs for 40 minutes and incorporates a choreographed soundtrack, fragrance, food and drink options along the way and a retail store. It’s a technical marvel with 150 high-tech projectors and 30,000 square feet of projections. Paintings come to life: butterflies fly through the air, windmills turn, flowers bloom. By the time you’re done, you’ll have seen 30 self-portraits, 70 quotes from Van Gogh, 30,000 images.
The show plays in all exhibition rooms at the same time, so guests are free to move about and need not worry about missing any content. The Lume’s “Gogh Play” Interpretation Room lets guests interact with the art. The Van Gogh Yourself photo booth allows you to snap a photo and choose from one of the five different popular Van Gogh artworks that apply a filter to their photo. Guests can then email the photo to themselves and submit it to an in-gallery display wall where submissions are displayed in real time. Snap a selfie in a recreation of Van Gogh’s bedroom based on his artwork.
At the end of the exhibit, you’ll see original paintings by three renowned artists who found artistic inspiration in southern France in the final decades of the 19th century: Van Gogh, Gaugin and Cezanne. Contemporary digital artists inspired by Van Gogh’s work are also part of the Indy exhibit.
Added treats: Allow some time to tour the special van Gogh floral displays in the gardens. The lovely 100-acre Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park is also part of the Newfields campus.
Keep in mind
Most museums at this time are requiring visitors to wear masks. If you are already a member of another art museum, it’s worth asking if the museum you’re visiting has a reciprocal arrangement or reduced rate.
And a warning: some museum guests may experience health difficulties or even epileptic seizures when exposed to certain light patterns, noises or flashing lights.
HOW TO VAN GO: IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCES
The Lume Indianapolis, 4000 Michigan Road, created by Grande Experiences. Timed tickets are available Tuesday through Sunday and are $25 for adults, $17 for youth (6-17) and free for children 5 and under. The Van Gogh galleries close one and a half hours after the last ticket time. For more info: discovernewfields.org
Immersive Van Gogh, Columbus, runs from Oct. 28-Jan 2 and is designed by the team behind the “Van Gogh Starry Night” experience at Paris’ L’Atelier des Lumières seen in the Netflix show “Emily in Paris.” It will be located at Lighthouse ArtSpace Columbus at 940 Polaris Parkway. Tickets are $40 and $55. For info: columbusvangogh.com
Immersive Van Gogh, Cleveland, is open and will run through Feb. 6. It’s located at 850 E. 72nd St. Admission is $32.50 for adults, $19.10 for children ages 4-12 and $87 for a family pass: 2 adults and 2 children. For info: vangoghcleveland.com
Columbus Museum of Art: “Through Vincent’s Eyes: Van Gogh and His Sources,” will be on display Nov. 12-Feb. 6. Featuring more than 140 works of art by artists who influenced Van Gogh, the exhibit also features 17 of Van Gogh’s signature works. Organized by the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in partnership with the Columbus museum. For info: columbusmuseum.org
Dayton Art Institute Focus exhibition: “Van Gogh and European Landscapes.” Runs from March 5-Sept. 4, 2022. A pair of Van Gogh’s major paintings on loan from the Beyeler Museum in Switzerland. For info: daytonartinstitute.org
Cleveland Museum of Art: Special Installation of Four Works by Van Gogh: “The Large Plane Trees (Road Menders at Saint-Rémy), “Two Poplars in the Alpilles near Saint-Rémy,” “Landscape with Wheelbarrow” and “Dr. Gachet,” the only etching the artist ever created. Through Dec. 5. For info: clevelandart.org
Cincinnati Art Museum: Two Van Gogh paintings in the permanent collection currently on view. They are “Undergrowth with Two Figures,” which is the most popular painting in the museum, and “Head of a Peasant Woman.” For info: cincinnatiartmuseum.org
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