An art gallery – or is it?
As someone who is not usually a big lover of art exhibits, I was a bit sceptical when I was asked to go to one. Standing around looking at paintings, especially abstract ones, isn’t my thing. I don’t usually feel a connection and while I can admire them for their colour, the artistry is usually lost on me. About to give it a pass, there were two things that stopped me:
The first was Vincent Van Gogh – this exhibit was going to be about his work. Of all the painters whose work could possibly be exhibited, I would be most interested in seeing his. I really like his use of colour. His paintings feel a lot more real to me. I can see some of the artistic value, although I am sure a lot is still lost on me.
The second was that this wasn’t going to be like an exhibit in an art gallery. No standing around looking at paintings of a splotch of colour trying to figure out if it is a duck, a tree, or a battleship. This was going to be an interactive exhibit. The creators describe it with the following sentence: “Experience art like never before – lose yourself in 500,000 cubic feet of flawless projections animating Vincent van Gogh’s oeuvre. Wander through entrancing, moving images that highlight brushstrokes, detail, and color – truly illuminating the mind of the genius”. It doesn’t sound like your average art exhibit.
I guess there was a third perk for me: I wasn’t paying for the ticket. If it wasn’t interesting, I would only lose a couple of hours and that would be that. Something to add to a list of things I have done before but probably wouldn’t do again. At least that is what I thought.
Visiting the Van Gogh Exhibit
Like any kind of exhibition like this, you need to buy tickets. In this case you buy them online before you arrive. You arrive and after showing your tickets and going through security, you enter the foyer of the main exhibition space. In Phoenix (not sure about other locations) there is a coat check and small drinks café.
Entering through a series of arches (above), you come into a giant room. This is where you spend all of your time. Unlike other exhibits where you have to go to the art, art comes to you.
The Van Gogh exhibit consists of projectors that display an approximately 30-minute audiovisual show. Over these 30 minutes, Van Gogh’s artwork comes to life. It is painted on the walls and floor all around you. It features 12 paintings, including the Mangeurs de pommes de terre (The Potato Eaters, 1885), the Nuit étoilée (Starry Night, 1889), Les Tournesols (Sunflowers, 1888) and La Chambre à coucher (The Bedroom, 1889).
The exhibition transitions from one painting to another, although it did not always create the full picture. For example some of the paintings appeared in full by combining various strokes, such as in this video:
Other sequences appeared using a scrolling technique:
None of the paintings was ever static. They always moved in some way or another. Here is a sequence based on his famous “Hay Stacks” painting:
I really enjoyed my time at this exhibit. It was a nice, refreshing way to be exposed to art. I think for me what really helped was that it didn’t feel like a stuffy atmosphere or pretentious in any way. You could come and go as you pleased; you could stay as long as you wish.
Due to Covid-19 there were circles on the floor that were socially distanced. You had to wear a mask to enter the building and you had to go to one of the circles and stay away from other people. Some of the circles even had a bench or seats (you could also ask for one). Since you were surrounded by projections (all walls and the floor at least), you did not get in other people’s way.
I would definitely recommend visiting this exhibit if you can. A normal priced ticket in Phoenix was approximately $70; there are tickets available at discounted rates for special times, groups and other sources (like Groupon). For example our tickets were ‘buy one, get one free’, so 4 of us were able to go for $140. As it was for a birthday, it was definitely worth it even before we arrived. After experiencing it, I would happily go again.
If Phoenix is not close, there are also other exhibits. There are several cities in the US where the exhibition is permanent. There are also exhibits across Europe as well. In fact the team that created it is Italian. The US version of the website is here: https://www.vangoghphx.com/#
Here are some more pictures from the exhibit:
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