On Saturday, I visited the Van Gogh Alive immersive experience here in Brisbane. Although not strictly an art gallery, I decided it was worth a review considering its role as a digital art experience that focuses on immersion rather than displaying ‘authentic’ artworks. What I mean by this, is you won’t see an original Van Gogh painting on display. Before I run through what the experience entails, I will start with some context including how many of these experiences exist and their aims/goals.
Van Gogh Immersive Experiences
When researching for some context behind Van Gogh Alive, I came across a very informative article published on Artnet in June 2021. According to this article, there are at least five different immersive Van Gogh experiences currently touring the world. That is a lot of Van Gogh immersion! Here is a breakdown of the five companies currently touring.
1. Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience
This experience was created by Mathieu St-Arnaud, director of the Montreal-based Normal Studio. In this show, there are 300 images from Van Gogh’s artworks projected onto screens accompanied by music and quotes from the artist.
2. Imagine Van Gogh: The Immersive Exhibition
Created by Annabelle Mauger and Julien Baron, this experience claims to be so visceral that showing any videos on their website would not be able to capture the full experience. Unlike Beyond Van Gogh, this experience projects 200 of Van Gogh’s paintings from the final years of his life. There is also a pedagogical room designed with the assistance of art historian, Androulla Michael. In here, visitors can learn more about Van Gogh.
3. Immersive Van Gogh
Designed by film producer, Massimiliano Siccardi, this is a one-hour experience with over 100 projectors bringing to life Van Gogh’s greatest works. It is accompanied by some experimental electronic music and apparently was the experience featured in ‘Emily in Paris’ on Netflix.
4. Van Gogh Alive
This is the experience currently in Brisbane. It has been designed by Grande Experiences and focuses on Van Gogh’s works between 1880 and 1890. It projects more than 3000 images and is, like most of the others, accompanied by music.
5. Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience
Last, but not least, we have an experience co-produced by Exhibition Hub and Fever. Over 400 Van Gogh artworks are displayed in a light show and there are galleries/virtual reality offerings providing information about Van Gogh’s life and work.
Van Gogh Alive
I want to shift focus now to Van Gogh Alive – the immersive experience I visited. Before entering into the experience there are some information boards that provide context and more about the design of the show itself. According to these boards, the aim of the experience is to ‘create a dynamic, informative and visually spectacular immersive, shared environment to redefine how visitors of all ages, backgrounds and cultures interact with art.’ Such a bold aim. It wants you to interact with the art rather than view it on a wall, often from a distance.
Van Gogh Alive was first introduced at the Art Science Museum in Singapore in 2011. Since then, it has been displayed in over 70 cities worldwide and has attracted around 8 million visitors. It is immersive, meaning you don’t just look at the artworks, but you are drawn into the world of the artworks through music, light shows, etc. The music, in particular, has been selected to mirror Van Gogh’s emotions at six various stages of his career: The Netherlands, Paris, Arles, Saint-Remy, Auvers-sur-Oise, and Self-Portraits.
This particular experience depends on SENSORY4 technology. It is a system combining multichannel motion graphics, surround sound and high-definition projectors. In short, it can transform an exhibition space into something dynamic and immersive.
I will start by saying that, overall, I really enjoyed the experience. There are a few reasons why. Firstly, sitting in the room with the projectors, listening to music, and watching the artworks being projected onto screens was not only a really relaxing moment but allowed me to see some of Van Gogh’s most famous works in a way I’ve never seen them before. The level of detail is absolutely fantastic – you can see every single brush stroke up-close which is really beautiful. We sat in this room for the full duration of the show, absolutely mesmerised.
Secondly, before projecting works from each of the six stages of Van Gogh’s career, very short thematic panels are displayed. This allows visitors to gain an overview of what was happening with Van Gogh at that stage and any important information that affected his artworks. This gives the experience a little bit of artist context that I was hoping to see.
Thirdly, I enjoyed the two rooms on either side of the projection room. One was based on The Starry Night and the other, Sunflowers. I’ll include pictures below so you can see exactly what they look like.
Last, but not least, I think the experience is a great way to introduce people to Van Gogh who may not normally want to visit a gallery. It doesn’t have that ‘art gallery’ vibe (if you know, you know) and it is a much more relaxed environment to enjoy the art and experience it in a new way.
In saying all that, I feel I enjoyed it even more because I have seen some of Van Gogh’s works in galleries. I hope that this might encourage people to visit a gallery! I’ve read quite a few critiques of these kinds of shows and I don’t want to venture into that on this blog. Instead, I wanted to be honest and write about my individual experience which, for me, was truly positive.
Van Gogh Alive is fully accessible. Tickets can be purchased from Ticketek here. It looks like the show will be heading to Canberra, Newcastle, Sydney, and Perth so if you’re in any of those locations, keep an eye out. Opening hours are: 10am – 9pm (Mon – Thurs), 10am – 10.30pm (Fri), 9am – 10.30pm (Sat) and am – 9pm (Sun). For more information click here.