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  • Writer's pictureVivienne Boucherat


I somehow felt compelled to see ‘VAN GOGH The Immersive Experience’, and in January, Chris and I got the chance to go.

There are a confusing number of ‘immersive’ Van Gogh shows all touring around the world and apparently the presentations vary in quality. The show we experienced was presented in Spitalfields, London, by a Brussels based company – Exhibition Hub.

Having had my own work animated and projected – I am very open-minded to this sort of treatment of art and I was excited by the idea of immersing myself in the brilliant works of a master painter!

My expectation was that I would really feel as if I was moving around inside a Van Gogh painting and that I would be ‘saturated and engulfed’ by the colour and form and be transported beyond the experience of looking at oil paint on canvas.

There were several different rooms at the exhibition that showed us projected selections of his work - animated changes between all of his paintings of flowers for example, or projections of the works he made towards the end of his life Saint-Remy. There was a mock-up of the room he shared with Paul Gaugin in Arles, prints of paintings and all sorts of soundtracks and commentaries. There was a room you could colour in outlines of Van Gogh images and (for an extra fee!) you could put on Virtual Reality goggles to walk though his studio and see places he painted.

The ‘grand finale’ was a room in which animated images of his work were projected onto the four walls and the floor. You could sit in this room and be surrounded. I had seen pictures of this room before our visit and, I have to be honest, I think the photographs of this room are superior to being IN the room. Those photographs were what attracted me to the exhibition in the first place - you can find plenty of them online.

In reality, somehow it felt a bit distant and diluted. A bit like a corporate Imax event? Though I applaud the design work that has made this exhibition a reality, and I understand that many thousands have been thrilled by it, for me, it didn’t hold a candle to seeing the actual works of Van Gogh up close and personal!

Both Chris and I were ultimately underwhelmed and agreed that in musical terms it was like sampled versions of classic songs being used in new compositions, or extraordinary vocals being chopped up and sampled in short patterns into a dance track – it has interest, but it doesn’t have the soul and integrity of the original song.

I almost felt sad. But who knows – Vincent Van Gogh may have loved it! I am sure he would have been bewildered.

Many years ago, Chris and I went to Amsterdam. The Van Gogh Museum was closed but there was a small room of his paintings at the Rijks Museum. Seeing this small selection of canvasses was a completely satisfying and visceral event. They were delicious! You could feel the ‘spirit’ of his work somehow – see the intensity, energy and intention. The paintings have a luminosity of colour and a mountain of texture - which somehow brings you closer to the artist, his choices, his processes and his ‘human-ness’.

Perhaps it is foolish to compare the two situations – the experiences of the ‘Immersive’ and of seeing the originals? However, I am glad to have visited the Immersive, (you can only ever really find out what you think for yourself), but the result is that I just want to see the original work again – as soon as I can! Perhaps that in itself is a plus?

Whatever our reactions to these events, it is SO good to be able to get back out to see some art again…can’t wait for a music gig now!!

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