Ever dreamt of stepping into a famous painting that hangs in a museum? That’s what it felt like when walking through the Van Gogh Immersive Experience. While visiting family in Philadelphia last October, we attended the long-running show. It was part of the same gorgeous fall trip when we explored Chanticleer Garden.
By the time I got back home, it was Halloween and busy season for holiday posts. I just never had the chance to catch-up and share our experience. Plus, pandemic cases began to steeply rise with the omicron wave. So, it wasn’t the time or seemed appropriate to encourage folks to congregate.
When we went to the exhibit last October, proof of vaccination and wearing of masks was strictly enforced. Tickets were timed to manage crowd size. We felt very safe.
But, it’s not too late to see a Van Gogh immersive experience in many cities across the country. Perhaps there’s one near you? It could also be part of a weekend excursion to another city?
Turns out, nearly 50 different cities in the U.S. (plus others around the world) are hosting some type of Van Gogh immersive experience! That’s because there are five different productions presenting shows. Before I researched this post, I thought they were all by a single company. But the exhibit we saw in Philadelphia is a different production than the one running here in Pittsburgh.
For now, come along with me for a virtual step inside Van Gogh’s famous paintings, including Starry Night, the Sunflower series, and his other most acclaimed works.
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In Philadelphia we saw, Van Gogh: An Immersive Experience. a partnership between producer Exhibition Hub and the entertainment platform, Fever.
Using a trademarked video mapping technology, the production wraps visitors in more than 400 Van Gogh works. The art literally surrounds you — including projections on the floor.
Since 2017, the exhibition tour has been seen by over five million visitors. The main attraction is the Immersive Room. There, you step into 20,000 square feet of light and sound featuring the artist’s most compelling works. Its a unique storytelling experience delivered through cutting-edge technology.
In the picture above, we are awestruck by Van Gogh’s almond blossom artworks.
Everyone is silent as a soothing soundtrack accompanies the stunning visual production. It all contributes to a relaxing, almost Zen-like environment. And who doesn’t need a little of that these days?
Meet Van Gogh
As you probably know, Vincent Willem van Gogh (1853 – 1890) was a Dutch Post-Impressionist painter. But, it wasn’t until after he died, that he became one of the most famous and influential figures in Western art history.
Within a decade, he created about 2,100 artworks, including nearly 860 oil paintings.
Remarkably, most of those date from the last two years of his life! Van Gogh’s works include landscapes, still-lifes, portraits and self portraits.
Vincent was commercially unsuccessful during his lifetime, and was considered a madman and failure. Tragically, he struggled with severe depression and poverty, and spent time in psychiatric hospitals. He infamously severed part of his left ear with a razor.
Later, the artist committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest. Van Gogh died two days later at only 37 years old.
After his death, Van Gogh’s fame grew, and he came to be seen as a misunderstood genius. Vincent attained widespread critical and commercial success over the ensuing decades. Today, he is remembered as an important, but tragic painter with a troubled personality.
Today, Van Gogh’s works are among the world’s most expensive paintings to have ever sold. Most of his art is characterized by bold colors and dramatic, expressive brushwork that have contributed to the foundations of Modern Art. Like his Tree Roots work, surrounding spectators in the picture above.
Bigger than Life
Near the entrance of the show, visitors are greeted by an enormous bust of Van Gogh, with changing imagery projections of his works.
Then, the Van Gogh expedition in Philadelphia leads visitors through numerous rooms and exhibits that tell the story of his life, art and legacy. After that, is a long dark corridor and set of heavy, black velvet curtains to enter the Immersion Room — so as to not interrupt the show.
During Van Gogh’s stay in the South of France in 1888, he created a new approach to still lifes and landscapes. His paintings grew brighter as he developed a style that became fully realized during that stay.
Between Feb 1888 and May 1889 Van Gogh created 189 paintings in Arles, France — including a famous one of his bedroom. At the exhibitor, visitors have the opportunity to literally enter the painting; as if standing in the actual room.
During this same period, is when Van Gogh painted his series of olive trees, wheat fields and sunflowers.
All told, Van Gogh painted 11 works in which sunflowers are the primary subject — and even more where they play a role on the canvas.
Next week, Mr. Buzz and I had expected to spend time actually touring Arles. It was one of several Van Gogh related locations and sites we expected to visit. Attending the Van Gogh immersive experience was partly in anticipation to vacationing in Holland and France in 2022. Now, our June holiday in Provence and Burgundy has also been cancelled. Sigh. More on that later.
Giant Floral Vases
Before entering the Immersion Room, visitors walk through a series of of other unique presentations of Van Gogh’s art.
Near the front of the exhibition, is what appears to be an about six-foot tall vase protruding from a giant canvas covering an entire wall. It was one of my favorite presentations.
On both the canvas and vase, an evolving series of Van Gogh’s floral still life paintings slowly bloom into view, and then transform into another. It was gorgeous and so cleverly presented. In the image above, I’ve created a collage of just four of the changing artworks.
Another interactive element of the Van Gogh immersive experience was that many of the images were animated. Some were subtle; like a sailboat floating across water, or a horse-drawn wagon in a wheat field. Cherry blossom buds opened and bloomed. Dark skies sparkled with stars.
Others, were much more dramatic, like an engine’s steam surrounding the room until it obstructed the train entirely.
There were all kinds of seating options scattered around the Immersive Room. Some people, like Mr. Buzz, chose to simply lie on a carpet pad on the floor to soak it all in. I moved several times, depending on what was being presented during the continuous, 40-minute show which ran in a loop. People enter and leave at will. Some watch it more than once.
Starry, Starry Night
Starry Night is probably Vincent van Gogh’s most famous painting. Instantly recognizable, the work has been the subject of poetry, fiction, as well as the song “Starry, Starry Night” by Don McLean.
Now on permanent display at the NYC Museum of Modern Art, we were fortunate to see it several years ago, while visiting our son in Manhattan. But, that in no way took away from feeling a part of it at the Van Gogh Immersive Experience.
Starry Night was painted while Vincent was in the asylum at Saint-Remy. Due to the severity of his attacks, his behavior was very erratic at the time. Unlike most of Van Gogh’s works, Starry Night was painted from memory and not outdoors, as was his preference.
The painting is described as Van Gogh’s Magnum Opus. And, it was wonderfully presented with animation, as the night sky and river slowly evolved from one phase to another. It was the climax of the exhibition.
Whatever the interpretations or underlying meanings, Starry Night stands out as one of the most important works of art produced in the nineteenth century.
About a Van Gogh Immersive Experience
In addition to the light and sound show in Philadelphia, there is a drawing studio, and galleries that offer information about Van Gogh’s life and work. There’s also an optional (extra charge) 10-minute Virtual Reality (VR) experience called, A Day in the Life of the Artist in Arles. We did not opt for the VR, as we anticipated visiting Arles in person.
Children of all ages also have the opportunity to create their own Vincent-inspired art and have it projected on walls at the theater. In total, the entire exhibition is estimated to take 60-75 minutes. Visitors are free to take photos with no flash.
At the time we booked our tickets, the location was to be a “surprise.” What they promoted as Philadelphia, actually was at the old Tower Theatre in Upper Darby — considerably outside the city. We purchased standard access (timed) tickets, which were rather pricey. But, I’d opt for them again, even if the show is over priced. VIP tickets included the VR, skipping the line and a poster. I wouldn’t recommend it being worth the extra expense.
Sites are no longer a surprise and many exhibitions are adding dates and being extended. I’ve also noticed discounts available on the production still running here in Pittsburgh.
Since both our vacations to Van Gogh’s native Holland and adopted Arles were cancelled, I’m even more appreciative of having experienced the show. Have you attended any of the expeditions? What did you think?
Van Gogh Legacy
Located in Amsterdam, Vincent’s legacy is honored by a museum in his name. It holds the world’s largest collection of Van Gogh paintings and drawings. Next year, when we hope to finally visit the Netherlands (Holland 2.0), we plan to visit the Van Gogh Museum. There, we look forward to seeing some of his most recognizable works in person, including; sunflowers, bedroom in Arles, almond blossoms, self portrait in gray felt hat, tree roots, and the yellow house.
A number of years ago, with our then adolescent sons, we visited the amazing Musee d’Orsay in Paris who’s collection includes another 27 stellar Van Gogh paintings.
Hopefully, we will also get to Arles, France in 2023, and seek out the actual sites of many of those famous canvases. Our plan includes walking down the Rue de la Republique to the Espace Van Gogh, the local hospital that treated the artist. Today it serves as a cultural center.
Have you visited any of those places, museums or sites? Tips or suggestions to share?
Doggy Drama Grows
Okay, please excuse me while I let off a little steam in this section. I feel the need to vent. Feel free to skip this part of the post altogether.
Part of the decision to cancel our trip to France had to do with our Scottie dog, Whiskey. Regular readers might recall me mentioning a benign tumor in, Glass Pulling Class: Flower Sculpting. Since then, the infection raged out of control and the growth exploded in size — literally! Just two days after finally receiving delivery of the reupholster couch (on Mother’s Day), the abscess bleed all over the new seat cushions! Poor Whiskey was limping, in pain and confined to that awkward, uncomfortable cone. No walks, no play either. Again, I’ll spare you the evermore gruesome pictures.
We were referred to a specialty surgeon. He told us that benign or not, the growth had to be removed ASAP. Because it was so huge, and in a very challenging spot on the bottom of his foot, Whiskey might also lose two toes! And, if the biopsy came back as cancer … they’d likely have to remove his entire leg!
That was a Friday, surgery was scheduled for Monday. How were we possibly going to be able to board him in a kennel during his recovery, while I was off vacationing for two weeks in France?
Another European Trip Cancelled
After coming back from the surgeon, we got an email from Viking that they were implementing much stricter COVID-19 restrictions. We already were going to have to take two pre-cruise tests before boarding, and then submit to regular testing.
Now we where required to wear an N-95 mask not only on the ship (including outside), but on all excursions —even when on our own while on shore! Basically ALL THE TIME. Even in 80-90 degree outdoor temperatures, while exploring Roman ruins or walking through vineyards. This despite the fact France had dropped it’s pre-testing requirement for vaccinated and boosted visitors to enter the country. It also eliminated it’s citizen and guest vaccine passport; opening restaurants, museums, etc. to the unvaccinated.
Viking‘s answer was the policy was made to protect it’s older guests. Aren’t we those people? Hubby and I had gotten our second booster for that very reason. And, since every paying passenger was required to be fully vaccinated, boosted and submit to regular testing, should it be our choice when and where to wear a mask?
What kind of luxury vacation would that be?! Viking‘s tagline is, “travel the world in comfort.” Comfort?! Over $13,000 for two weeks in an N95 mask — indoors and out. Because I wear glasses, I’d be in a constant fog. And, if we were asymptomatic and test positive, we’d get booted from the ship and have to pay to stay in a French quarantine center. C’est la vie?
Fortunately, when we paid for the trip in March, we got a no-excuse cancellation guarantee. We elected to use it. Viking holds all our money in the form of a voucher. We can apply those funds to any other company trip booked within the next to years. I’m grateful we had the ability to cancel.
I know, boo who, poor Debbee doesn’t get to go to France or Holland! Believe me, I feel guilty being upset about it. I know I have a blessed, charmed life.
But, I confess to being very depressed about the persistence of this pandemic, Ukraine, the toxic political environment, and now that God awful massacre in Texas! I feel alternate between being frustrated, sad and angry. How are you handling it all?
Whiskey Gets a Reprieve
However, we did have a small miracle of sorts happen with Whiskey. A few days before the surgery consult, our regular vet had given him a super-duper, long-lasting antibiotic to help fight the infection. By the morning of the surgery, it apparently had finally kicked in. The growth had shrunk a startling 40-50%! The surprised surgeon sent us back home!
A few days ago, Whiskey got another of the two-week lasting shot. He no longer is in pain or limps. However, the darn cone has to stay until the tumor totally resolves itself. He just won’t leave it alone! It could still be another two to six weeks. And, he may still need to have it removed, even if it’s much smaller. However, we are very relieved and grateful.
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