As 2022 came to a close, my family made a trip to the traveling immersive art experience, Beyond Van Gogh.
We knew we wanted to visit this event as far back as January when we first saw the ads popping up on social media. When my family attended an amazing traveling exhibit highlighting Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescoes in the fall, we were even more determined to make sure we made it to this one.
Like the Sistine Chapel exhibit, this was a chance to get a unique close-up and a completely new way to look at art pieces we may think we already know, but the experience itself was an entirely unique adventure.
Created by multimedia groups Normal Studio and Paquin Entertainment, Beyond Van Gogh is not so much an exhibit as an immersive art experience. The experience combines some very sophisticated projection technology created for a special 30,000-square-foot open art space. It combines music and more than 300 works of Vincent Van Gogh to tell a visual story of his life and work. The result was breathtaking.
Due to the popularity of this event, it was highly encouraged to purchase your entry time well in advance, and guests are throttled in on 15-minute intervals. Even with that, there was a significant amount of people in our afternoon time slot, but not so much that you couldn’t enjoy the event.
Once your time slot is called, you are led through a colorful neon-lined hallway that reminded me of the current trend of immersive art spaces made popular by sites like Meow Wolf. We were then led to a larger queue space where we were able to read several quotes from Van Gogh himself, as well as information about his own artistic struggles and achievements. Being able to include the bulk of the signage in the waiting queue not only helped make the short wait a part of the event itself, but it got the “required reading” out of the way.
Once you entered the main event space, there is no signage, except for the periodic Van Gogh quote. The main event space is where the full immersion happens, and the show is probably about 40 minutes long. To get your full money’s worth, you will want to make sure to see the entire loop. We were fortunate to get in right when it began, and there didn’t seem to be anyone rushing people out should they want to stay a little longer.
This isn’t just a large-scale PowerPoint-style slide show, either. The art grows, changes, moves, and spreads itself over the entire space, like being inside a growing garden or flowing river.
The experience started with a brief blank space, then simple charcoal lines being sketched around the walls and underfoot. Slowly, the images are completed, and the color is added before you are surrounded by completed Van Gogh works. Then you travel through his different phases of paintings, from his landscapes to portraits to botanical works. You go from his brightest creations to his darkest ideas put to canvas. The transitions flow seamlessly together, and there isn’t time to get bored or tired of any of the images.
Also, I should note the room was fully accessible for those in wheelchairs, and people were allowed to set on benches or stretch out on the floor if they want.
If possible, I recommend not staying in one place. No matter where you are in the main room, you will get a wonderful view of the experience, but Beyond Van Gogh concentrates on Van Gogh’s style of created movement from a still image, most famously seen in his Starry Night.
When the wispy skies and stars of the Starry Night image filled the room, effects included twinkling stars flowing air currents. In some of his landscape paintings, rippling and flowing water effects were included, and the clouds and birds moved throughout the space. Flowers and tree limbs grew and twisted across the floor in some paintings. Petals appeared to blow across the walls, and even his portraits were brought to life with the occasional blinking of eyes or smoke flowing from pipes. The facial movements were a teeny bit unnerving, as it seemed like Vincent’s ghost was watching you to see how you were reacting to his art.
There were plenty of selfie-takers wandering around, but no one was being obnoxious or loud. Everyone from the smallest visitor to the largest group seemed to want to be respectfully quiet, absorbing the entire moment.
As with most traveling events or exhibits, you “exit through the gift shop.” Many of the items were similar to Van Gogh items you can purchase in other art museums, although we did pick up a few postcards of our favorite pieces.
I always feel personal photos are the best souvenirs, and on the way out of the event were a couple of cute photo ops, allowing you to be part of a Van Gogh image.
One other free inclusion of the exhibit was a spot where you could scan the link to the soundtrack on Spotify, which included an eclectic mix of atmospheric instrumentals including a piece of the score from the film The Shape of Water and a beautiful version of the song “Vincent.”
The projected image experience is not that uncommon; watch any fireworks or light show at a Disney or Universal park to see what can be done with these effects. However, there’s something so soothing and otherworldly about being completely surrounded by some of the most beautiful paintings ever created that remind us of the living, breathing effect of art in our lives.
It is uncanny to think that a simple projection effect would make Van Gogh’s already timeless images would help make an avid art lover out of even the youngest visitor.
To learn where Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience is heading next, check out the touring schedule at beyondvangogh.com.
To see a similar experience and more information, read Daxter Sullivan’s Van Gogh experience from January 2022.