It’s Gogh Time

by Yana Kane, Opinions Reporter

Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience is more than a way to admire art. At the gallery in Boston, colors and scenery consumed me, allowing me to experience the art. Instead of displaying physical, framed paintings like most art museums do, the exhibition projected Van Gogh’s art onto the walls of an empty room. His renowned pieces, including my personal favorites — “Almond Blossom” and “Bedroom in Arles” — were brought to life with modern technology. 

Although displaying art originally intended for a canvas through a projector lens may appear to take away its depth, I believe it revives Van Gogh’s work. He was known for his uniqueness and eccentric personality. He was never mentally stable, but that’s part of what contributed to the greatness of his art. 

He was able to create in any space, even in the Saint-Paul asylum, where he channeled his strong emotions and memories into his paintings. He drew from his feelings of boredom and loneliness and painted an escape where he didn’t feel that way; one of his most well-known paintings, “Starry Night,” was the outcome. 

Art is all about taking risks, and the Immersive Experience embodies such a fundamental concept through this unorthodox method to display Van Gogh’s paintings in an imaginative and original way.

 In 2008, digital artists Massimiliano Siccardi and Luca Longobardi began to design the Immersive Experience. They both lived in Provence, France, for 15 years and were mesmerized by its beauty. Hoping to share such scenic landscapes, which Van Gogh often painted, Siccardi and Longobardi came up with the exhibition, so that people all over the world could discover the landscapes of South France, learning about its history while appreciating Van Gogh’s artistry. The exhibition had a great response from the public as it quickly attracted popularity. 

The gallery itself spans two rooms. The first room includes information about Van Gogh’s life and the inspiration and backstory of the exhibit. An extensive color-coded timeline describes the various locations that Van Gogh modeled his paintings after, as well as details of what influenced his art. 

Knowing the context of both the exhibition and Van Gogh enhanced my experience because I was primed to go through the gallery with a more personal outlook: I started to feel as though I understood what he was trying to portray and how he was able to do it.

When I walked into the second room, it immediately felt like stepping into one of his paintings. Every surface, including the floor, of the vast room was covered in his art. The stars of his landscapes lit up the room, and the eyes of his self-portraits seemed to stare at me. A giant column in the middle of the room mirrored the same image as the one projected on the walls.

This created a very compelling visual effect as it reduced the amount of empty space and made the room seem more compact, which further added to the feeling of being inside of the picture. Dimmed lights helped to spotlight the painting. Some of the paintings were animated, as the images on the walls slid into the floors. This was mostly used on his seascapes, which made me feel like I was sinking into the water. 

The image then transitioned into still-lifes such as the “Vase with Twelve Sunflowers,” “Vase with Oleanders and Books,” and my favorite, “Vase with Pink Roses.” I got a chance to admire them without having to squint into a small frame. In addition to the great display, benches were stationed in different corners of the room, so viewers could sit and relax, simply taking everything in. The Immersive Experience did an amazing job at presenting Van Gogh’s art in a way that made me not just see it, but feel it.

Virtual art shows are either hated or loved. Some claim that they cannot compare to traditional museums, while others say they are an innovative and effective method to appreciate art. I think it depends on the genre of art being displayed. Art forms like cubism or surrealism, I’d prefer seeing as a regular painting, because putting art with multiple figures and shapes in a large space would make it difficult to discern the big picture, which would instead be fragmented into individual pieces. 

Meanwhile, still-lifes or self-portraits that involve only one subject are more straightforward, so are better presented on a larger surface because the characteristics of the object of focus can stand out more.

The concept of paintings being presented as an immersive experience is relatively new, perhaps a reason for its quick criticism. I have read a few negative reviews on the Immersive Experience and other digital shows, calling them “diluted” and “predictable.” 

Although I agree that the exhibit was simple and that regular museums have the quality of timelessness, I think that regardless, the two are quite similar in the sense that both are meant to display art — they differ only in the approach to this goal. 

The original is traditional and fundamental to artistically educate oneself, but this new method can engage the younger generation into learning as well. This exhibition gives people the opportunity to understand Van Gogh’s vision in a more engaging way.

The Immersive Experience puts a new twist on Van Gogh’s art, which allows people to admire it from a new angle, quite literally. This new way to experience art immerses the viewer  into the painting, as if they were in the beautiful French countrysides that Van Gogh’s made into such iconic pieces.