Witnessing Van Gogh’s heavy paint strokes transposed onto a 90,000,000-pixel digital art projection provides a vastly different viewing experience than sitting quietly with “Olive Trees” at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and people want in.
The desire to step into the famous painter’s works soared this year, with no less than five entities organizing different immersive Van Gogh exhibitions across the country. Minnesotans’ chance to bathe in human-sized sunflowers comes via Immersive Van Gogh, which opened at Lighthouse Minneapolis on August 13. Inside Central Ave’s new venue, Van Gogh’s works and words swirl across the walls and floors to the tune of a curated soundtrack.
“I think it’s a beautiful addition to the arts district,” said Maria Schlover, co-founder of Lighthouse Immersive, which added the Northeast space to their roster of venues across the country designed for digital art experiences like the Gogh show. The entertainment company, which only launched last winter, has already extended the exhibit in major cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco where the first run of tickets sold out almost immediately.
The front doors of Lighthouse Minneapolis open to a bright and inviting sculpture by local artist, Randy Wong-Westbrook. Known for their work as scenic designer at Mixed Blood Theater, Wong-Westbook‘s vivid pieces dot the lobby, grounding visitors with something tangible en route to the galleries.
Aside from some fun facts accompanying the lobby sculptures, there isn’t much context around Van Gogh at the exhibit. One plaque tells visitors that he sold just one painting in his lifetime without alluding to his lifelong struggles with insecurity and isolation, themes that appeared often in his work.
Inside the long rectangular gallery spaces, the extravagant projection loops every 40 minutes or so. Scattered benches and mirrors provide built-in photo opps as furniture from “The Bedroom” dances around the walls and stars from the artist’s best-known work blossom and fade on the floor.
The fragmented quotes and trippy olive trees blowing in the digital breeze bring out all sorts of reactions, according to the exhibit producers. Some cry, some meditate, some, like me, smile when a rogue red clock mysteriously floats by, void of the rest of “The Night Café” to which it belongs. Some even propose, as the Minneapolis venue saw on opening weekend.
Immersive Van Gogh aims to evoke Gogh’s “chaotic inner consciousness” by balancing sun drenched farm scenes soundtracked by Edith Piaf with hallowed self portraits hovering ominously against a black backdrop. Press releases tout the exhibit as a deep dive into the artist’s psyche, but the swift moving animations deliver more of a dazzling shallow overview.
A Vincent superfan may leave unfulfilled, but casual Gogh fans seeking the sensory thrill of soaking in “Starry Night” swirls will find just that. They’ll also find a gift shop on their way out selling every souvenir imaginable, from Van Gogh tote bags to yoga mats.
Is the Van Gogh immersion craze pure commodification? Maybe he wanted his 2.5 x 3 foot paintings to stay that size, maybe he’d be into infusing his emotive paintings with world class animation. But, despite our efforts, we’ll never see the world through Van Gogh’s eyes, or know what he would think of all this. Besides, at $55 a head it’s unlikely that he could even afford the ticket.