Children sprawl on soft rugs staring upwards mesmerised at a giant virtual projection of Van Gogh paintings. Adults lounge in deckchairs and gaze entranced as Van Gogh’s masterpieces come to life in a giant animated sound and light display. Images project on to four 2-storey walls to surround visitors in 360 degree displays of Van Gogh’s most iconic art. Set to moving music, the Van Gogh Immersive Experience seems to provide a glimpse into Van Gogh’s anguish and suffering and extends the artist’s appeal way beyond avid art enthusiasts.
The Van Gogh Immersive Experience is a thrilling display that depicts both joy and angst as it flits between bright uplifting sunflower fields and dark harrowing night skies laced with nightmarish images. From haunting violin accompaniments to playful fingers dancing across piano keys in tandem with the unfolding scenes it is truly an incredible experience. If you ever wanted to know what it would feel like to step inside a painting and the mind of its artist, the Van Gogh Immersive Experience is not to be missed. No one will leave unmoved by the display of Van Gogh’s genius.
Who is Van Gogh?
It would be hard to imagine an adult today who has not heard of Vincent Van Gogh. Surely, we have all seem images of his bright, bold sunflowers and dramatic purple irises? It is equally unlikely that you are unfamiliar with ‘the Starry night’, a canvas that oozes darkness and desperation within its strokes.
However, you may be less familiar with the fascinating life of this troubled and overlooked young man. Here are just a few fascinating facts about the 19th century artist;
Van Gogh’s early life
- Van Gogh was born in 1853 in Zundert in the Netherlands to an austere minister and artistic mother. He was born just one year after a stillborn brother, also named Vincent and seemed destined for a life of melancholy and despair from a young age.
- He was the eldest of six children, 3 boys and 3 girls, but was particularly close to his brother Theo. Four years younger than Vincent, Theo worked as an art dealer and Vincent often corresponded with him by letter.
- Van Gogh was something of a disappointment to his parents. A desolate drifter, who worked as an art dealer, teacher, and preacher during his lifetime, Van Gogh couldn’t seem to settle. His attempts to find love often ended in rejection and bitter despair.
- Van Gogh barely made ends meet and tragically only sold one painting during his lifetime. In the years following his death however, exhibitions brought him incredible post-humous fame.
- This can be largely attributed to the passion of his sister in law, Johanna. She inherited many of Vincent’s works when his brother Theo died just six months after Vincent’s death.
- After Johanna passed away, her only child with Theo, Vincent Willem van Gogh, inherited his uncle’s artwork and eventually founded the Van Gogh Museum, which opened in Amsterdam in 1973.
Van Gogh’s later life
- Many of Van Gogh’s paintings have sold for record amounts and his works routinely spark bidding wars from collectors around the globe.
- In 1990, the ‘Portrait of Dr Paul Gachet’ sold for $83 million. It depicted the doctor who cared for Vincent after he shot himself (more about that shortly)
- ‘Labourer in a field’ sold for $81 million in 2017. This painting was inspired by views from his window in the Provencal asylum.
- Van Gogh suffered from depression, epilepsy and schizophrenia throughout his life. The impact of his illnesses could be hugely debilitating. Indeed, in the later stages of his life, he spent a year in an asylum in Provence. Perhaps his illness explains his lack of financial success during his lifetime. If we think it is difficult to talk about mental health now, imagine what it would have been like then!
- His mental health issues could be severe and in one incident, he cut off his ear following an argument with his housemate Paul Gauguin
- Ultimately, he died in 1890 from a self inflicted gunshot wound at the tender age of 37
- Perhaps this despair and distress is what led to his frenzied painting and sketching. He created over 900 paintings and over 1,000 sketches during his lifetime
- This works out at a new painting every 36 hours! A staggering achievement
Visiting the Van Gogh Immersive experience
Ok, so now you know a little more about the fascinating personal life of the artist, here is what you can expect from the exhibition. It comprises 4 radically different spaces.
The first exhibition room is styled as a traditional art gallery with pictures decorating the walls. Panels explain the short and tragic life story of Van Gogh and highlight many fascinating facts..
There are a few displays where the painting has been cleverly morphed into sculpture to intrigue visitors of all ages.
In one corner, a video suggests explanations for the thinking behind ‘A starry night’ and surprisingly reveals that Van Gogh may have been colour blind. His inability to see the full colour spectrum may be what inspired him to adopt such bold and dramatic colours as it was easier to distinguish between them. Intriguing, right?
The Van Gogh Immersive Room
In this huge warehouse, deckchairs allow visitors to indulge in the evocative music which accompanies the animated visual display. Tinkling piano keys fade to harrowed violin sounds that reach a desperate crescendo in cohort with darker scenes dripping down the screen.
Kids partake in an all round sensory experience as they sink into soft pile rugs, listen, wander and watch. Astonishingly, we saw kids as young as 5 entirely fascinated by the displays. This is an experience for the entire family and a great way to encourage reluctant art admirers to find joy in Van Gogh. The interactive show takes around 25 minutes.
The creativity room
The creativity room allows you to create your very own masterpiece. Pick up one of the templates from the plastic holders on the wall and create your own colourful version of one of Van Gogh’s masters.
When you have finished, pop it under the scanner and press the button. Watch in awe as your creation transforms into a Van Gogh masterpiece and fills one of the framed pictures in front of you. Mine is the one on the top left – watch out for it coming soon to a Sotheby’s auction near you!!
The Virtual Reality Room
Finally, the VR room has enough space for around 40 visitors to watch a 12 minute VR display. For just $5, the attendant will help you set up your headset and then leave you to enjoy the show.
Neither Jason or I have ever experienced VR before (yes I hear you gasp in horror at our Jurassic behaviour!). I felt a little queasy at first and clung desperately to my chair as we ambled through the countryside of Provence. The scenes are remarkably true to life as you relive Van Gogh’s daily life in France.
You follow him on a walk through sunflower fields draped in golden sunshine and pass working windmills slowly turning in the blistering heat. To find shade, you join Vincent in a leafy forest resplendent with vegetation and wildlife. Birds whizz by and flowers stir on the breeze as you approach a picturesque village. You descend to the side of the Arles river before the show culminates with one of Vincent’s many inspirational quotes.
Do not skimp on this $5 as it is such a life like insight into Vincent’s life. You might look a bit of a wally in your VR headset but who is watching??
Tickets to the Van Gogh Immersive Experience
Hopefully you now realise that if the Van Gogh Immersive experience comes to a town near you, you absolutely should not miss it.
You can pick from 32 venues around the globe but we visited the experience in Seattle where tickets start from $36 per adult and $19.90 per child. You can find prices and locations for the Van Gogh Immersive Experience here. Your ticket gives you unlimited time in the exhibition and you can book tickets here.
I absolutely loved this experience. Not only did I find the educational boards really interesting but I found the immersive room hugely moving. The way that the choreographers and videographers bring to life the paintings give you a sense of the struggle that Van Gogh experienced during his short life. Periods of light and gaiety entwine with periods of darkness and despair so harrowing that Vincent was driven to bouts of madness. It truly is incredible and leaves you with a new found appreciation for both Van Gogh’s struggles and genius.