I went to The Original Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit, Phoenix

The Original Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit is here in Phoenix through the end of November, and I went yesterday morning with my friend Caroline. Last weekend we went to a horror movie, this weekend, Van Gogh! These were my first social outings since the beginning of the pandemic.

And so it was that I found myself physically placed inside of a Van Gogh painting. Various Van Gogh paintings, in fact. Some of the environments were bustling with human activity, others were burgeoning with plant growth, yet others were shimmering emergences of faces. We stood inside the enormous 3D virtual canvas to experience the animated creation of some of the most beautiful, evocative, and iconic paintings in the world accompanied by a soundtrack of impeccably selected and created music. At times, we felt as though we were moving when we were standing still. This was The Original Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit. I felt tremendously fortunate to be there. Van Gogh created a world, and the show’s creators allowed us to enter it and experience it as it evolved.

I had a general idea of what to expect, but when I stepped into Gallery 1 and realized what was happening around me, what it was that I’d walked into, I knew that I couldn’t have imagined it. I could not have expected that my first response would be emotional, that tears would come to my eyes and stay there for the duration of the experience, at some times more than others. I say “experience” for lack of a better word. It’s a performance, of sorts. It’s a 2D/3D animated production that’s also an exhibit that’s also a musical presentation that’s also kind of a ride.

It was the best day I’ve had – and the happiest I’ve been – since Salem died.

It would seem counterintuitive to anticipate escaping into the world of another ill-struck mind, yet I found the experience to be humanizing and heartbreaking in the best of ways. It’s not necessary to know the basics of Vincent van Gogh’s life and evolution as an artist to appreciate the experience. You can see that some of his paintings are dark, traditional, studied renderings (i.e. The Potato Eaters; early career in his home country of The Netherlands), while others are filled with color, fluidity, and movement (i.e. Sunflowers, height of his career in France). Another work has a choppy, discordant feel to it, Wheatfield with Crows, which Van Gogh painted toward the end of his short life, when his mental state had deteriorated past a certain point. When the black crows appear before your eyes and take flight in their thick, crude brushstrokes, you feel the artist’s madness and doom on their wings. Van Gogh committed suicide just weeks after he painted them. In the temporal space between the vibrant Sunflowers and the fragile, chaotic Wheatfield with Crows, Van Gogh painted the fantastical The Starry Night as he contemplated the pre-dawn sky he saw through the window of his room in the insane asylum.

The Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh, 1889

The Original Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit doesn’t bring Van Gogh’s original paintings to us, but through the mediums of light, color, and sound, the exhibits’ creators bring us a shred of an idea of the mental and emotional space that the artist occupied. We can look at a painting on a wall with admiration and be awestruck by its visual qualities that appeal to us or touch us in some way, and it’s wonderful. We can look at a painting and simply appreciate that it’s a representation of whatever we see there in the style of its artist, whether it pleases us or not, and that’s wonderful, too. Here, we can meet Van Gogh and his paintings, not just see them. It is a novel way to view art and to appreciate it on a visceral level.

To perceive Van Gogh’s emotional connections to his surroundings. To note the importance of his relationship with color. To realize how painfully well he captured the souls of his subjects in his portraits of them, from their eyes to their body language. And to feel the devastation behind some of his self-portraits.

The Original Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit was created and directed by Massimiliano Siccardi and written by Luca Longobardi, Massimiliano Siccardi, and Vittorio Guidotti. Luca Longobardi was also behind the soundtrack (musical concept and composition). Several of the tracks are Mr. Longobardi’s original compositions. I especially love his piece “Narcissus.” Yes, I’ve put together an Original Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit playlist on Spotify.

Though visitors are allowed to take pics with the flash off, I took only one in the exhibit, itself. The few pics I took were outside of the galleries:

The exhibit begins before you enter the building. Behold Van Gogh’s beloved sunflowers come to life!
This hall led to the first of the two galleries
The End. The production ended, simply, with Van Gogh’s signature as the final image. This is the only pic I took in the gallery.
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A room to the side showcases some of Van Gogh’s letters lit up on glass, many of the letters to his brother, Theo. The letter gallery adds further depth and dimension to the Van Gogh experience.
I tried to wait for the space to clear before taking this picture! This was as empty as I could catch it. I’m sure these folks wouldn’t mind, as their faces aren’t visible.
The art continues on your way out, with Van Gogh’s peach blossoms painted on the exit stairs.

The Original Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit is a triumph. It is a must-see. Evidently there are several different immersive Van Gogh art shows running around the country and the world, so if you can get to any one of them, I highly recommend it! If you’re interested in the one that I went to, click the “choose your city” menu tab on the site for The Original Van Gogh Immersive Exhibit, Phoenix.

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