If your Google ad settings are anything like mine, you’ve been getting bombarded with promotions for “Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience” for the last two months.
If your Google ad settings are anything like mine, you’ve been getting bombarded with promotions for “Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience” for the last two months. The website boasts that over 2 million visitors have already enjoyed the experience, and it has popped up in many major US cities, including Atlanta, Boston, New York City, Detroit, Seattle, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. Certainly the promotional material looks impressive, and the chance to learn more about Van Gogh’s work and see it in a new way sounded promising.
Having said that, the exhibit itself felt a bit undercooked and overpriced. After paying $45 each for adult tickets to go in, we were first greeted by a huge wall with a large print of Van Gogh’s sunflowers, which certainly seemed to herald a larger-than-life experience that attendees would witness. Moving into the exhibit space, there were about two large rooms subdivided into smaller alcoves that had panels of Van Gogh’s work with perfunctory text about when he created it, people he knew in his life, and the timeline of his art. This was fine, although I noted that the reproductions were somewhat low-resolution, meaning that if you view them from a distance they look fine but if you directly stand in front of them (say, at the distance you’d read the text panels from), the images are not particularly sharp.
In these spaces there were projections of Van Gogh’s work over a vase and a large bust of his head, and while I would say they were interesting enough, I didn’t see many people spending more than a minute or two watching them. I did like how the vase projection showed different works he had done with the same rough format, and noted for the first of many times throughout the display that this clearly seemed designed for and would be enjoyed best by people who were stoned. Other exhibits in the two initial rooms included a cutout of a painting that displayed different portions at different lengths, so that when you stood in front of it the image appeared three dimensional, and a few recreations of places in Van Gogh’s paintings, such as a bedroom you could sit in.
After leaving this area, we went into the main room of the exhibit, a large space with video projections on all four walls, music, and plenty of seating. The video loop appeared to be roughly 40 minutes, and included scenes from famous Van Gogh paintings such as Starry Night with brushstrokes looping and swirling about in a manner that any patron who has experience with psychadelics will recognize. These parts of the exhibit were fun to watch, and watching sketches appear around you was an inspired touch as well. However, at least half of the video felt like a project that was done by a first year film editing student on a tight deadline: portraits of Van Gogh appear in different places and then disappear in somewhat ridiculous puffs of smoke reminiscent of computer effects in the mid-1990s, streams of water pour out of paintings for no discernable reason, and quotes that seem like they’d be more at home on an inspirational calendar float around the screen. It felt like a little under half of the video was something that was worth watching, while the remainder was filler padding the run time to try to justify the exorbitant cost of the exhibit.
About that: after we left the main room of the exhibit, we found ourselves in an area with VR goggles where we could watch a virtual reality simulation of Van Gogh’s town. This was the point where I began to feel swindled by the event. There had been no mention of an upcharge to watch this at the sign in area, and for $45 it seemed stingy to be adding another $5 charge to watch a part of what ultimately was a pretty underwhelming display for the price. We had already paid to go in, yet here we were being hit up for more money if we wanted to see the entire exhibit. I watched a video of the VR experience on a monitor for a few moments instead, decided it looked fairly unimpressive, and moved on to the last part of the exhibit, the obligatory overpriced gift shop. Here you could buy books and other Van Gogh merch for prices undoubtedly much higher than you’d find them elsewhere. I was very disappointed by the exhibit by this point, and we left shortly after.
I don’t think it’s a terrible exhibit, I think it’s a wildly overpriced one. At $25 I would have felt like it had justified the cost. Having gone to Titanic: The Exhibition recently shortly after, it’s hard not to compare Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience unfavorably. The Titanic exhibit had so much more content and depth, and cost less as well. Even on its own merits, the Van Gogh exhibit still reeked of a cash grab from patrons who thought they would be getting more, and unaware that a significant part of the display was only available with an upcharge. Van Gogh’s life was short and while he has an impressive amount of artwork, it still seems like the cost to content ratio is pretty far off. If you do go, I’d recommend doing so on off hours when the prices are lower, and with tempered expectations. Perhaps, if it’s legal in your area and you’re comfortable with them, some edibles might improve your reaction to the exhibit as well.
Matthew Christopher DC Washington Nov 30, 2022 Arts Places to Visit Reviews