Beyond sunflowers and starry nights, Vincent Van Gogh’s work has become some of the most revered in the world. His dreamy, colorful paintings are instantly recognizable, and most people are aware that he died poor and alone, and something about an ear.
Whatever you think you know about Dutch painter, who’s work rose to fame after his death in 1890, the Immersive Van Gogh art installation allows you to experience his work like never before. Taken to cities across Europe and now North America, the experience is inspired by what would have flashed before Van Gogh’s eyes in the moments before he passed away.
Created by Italian artist Massimiliano Siccardi, with music composed by Luca Longobardi, Immersive Van Gogh features more than 400 licensed works produced by Van Gogh during his life. With this show, Siccardi aimed to bring VanGogh into our world, re-imagining his work for the 21st century's digitally-prone audience.
“In the grand scheme of things, in terms of getting Van Gogh’s world into the world, [we] play a small role,” says show producer Corey Ross. After all, it was Van Gogh's sister who helped promote his work after his death, and Ross sees Immersive Van Gogh as “just one down the road in the list of Van Gogh promoters.”
A MODERN APPROACH
Siccardi’s and Longbardi’s “360-digital art experience” projects 90 million pixels onto 500,000 cubic feet, allowing for a look at Van Gogh’s most famous pieces at never-before-seen scales.
Beholding Van Gogh’s technique at this larger-than-life angle allows audiences to appreciate brushstrokes that would never be seen without such magnification. From the strokes to the speckles and splatters of paint, Siccardi’s animation breathes life into Van Gogh’s genre-shifting paintings. Now, Van Gogh’s stars twinkle, his sunflowers sway, and his clouds blow in the wind.
“[Siccardi] deconstructs and re-constructs the pieces, animating them into a semi-narrative experience,” Ross says. “You’ll have steel beams that turn into sunflowers."
A FEAST FOR THE SENSES
By animating each brushstroke, paint splatter and sketch Van Gogh made for the selected pieces, the exhibit brings you closer to the artist’s mind.
This stream-of-consciousness narrative is choreographed to music, creating a 360-degree digital experience. Alongside Longobardi's compositions, Siccardi’s animation and art direction create a fully-immersive Van Gogh universe of sight, sound and emotion.
For fan-favorite "Starry Night," Siccardi’s animation took inspiration from the myth that Van Gogh painted the piece at night with a big straw, popularized by the Kirk Douglass film Lust for Life. Siccardi brings the myth to life in movement, mirroring Van Gogh’s brushstrokes, giving us a chance to see what Van Gogh may have looked like in the act of creation.
Throughout the entire show, Longobardi’s composition accompanies Siccardi’s animation, matching the ebbs and flows of the paint splatters and brushstrokes projected across the space. There is a climactic moment where the music clearly delineates a shift in Van Gogh’s work, representing the shift in colors predominantly featured in Van Gogh’s work.
“It’s this moment of departure when Van Gogh goes from some of his darker paintings," Ross says. "It’s this epiphany of color that fills the entire room.”
ADAPTING TO ARCHITECTURE
For both Siccardi and the producers, the venue for the installation was just as important to the story as the animations themselves. The plan was always to incorporate unique architectural details onto the exhibit’s narrative, so it was important that it be situated in architecturally-rich locations with individual histories. Though the process of finding venues was increasingly difficult due to COVID-19 restrictions. Rather than location-scout on site, the production team relied on floor plans to adapt the installation to the venues’ architectural details, but Ross emphasized the adaptability of the installation.
In Toronto, where the exhibit first opened in July of 2020, the installation landed at the Toronto Star Building, home to the original printing press of the Toronto Star newspaper. Its industrial architecture allowed show designers and producers to easily adapt the space for multiple projections. This location now offers drive-in and walk-through tickets, as well as select Yoga and Flow classes that can be taken inside the installation.
Inside the Germania Club in Chicago, the Van Gogh exhibit honors its history as the city's German Cultural Center. Its neoclassical architecture of the late 1890s, contemporary to Van Gogh’s time, allows columns to become sunflowers, and ceilings to become the perfect space to project Starry Night.
In San Francisco, Van Gogh’s work is projected in the original Fillmore Club, famous for hosting rock and punk bands in the '60s. The ballroom, filled with arabesque columns and archways on which Van Gogh’s artwork is now projected, was the home of Bill Graham’s liquid art shows. Projecting neon lights while rock and punk bands played, the Fillmore quickly became one of the “iconic psychedelic scenes” of the era.
“It’s also one of the earlier examples of music and projections combining," Ross says. "ere we are now, however later back in the room, doing this on a much higher scale."
Despite Covid restrictions, Immersive Van Gogh has been able to adapt and safely open in cities across the United States. From timed admissions, to mask and social distancing requirements, the production team works alongside local public health officials to ensure both workers and attendees’ safety. Most notably, social distancing circles projected onto the floor remind attendees where to stand.
“The circle is such a common feature of Van Gogh’s art, that it fits in in a magical way," Ross says. "It doesn’t feel like an imposition, like in a lot of other venues."
The Immersive Van Gogh exhibition is currently set to show in Toronto, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Las Vegas, Dallas, Pittsburgh, Miami, Atlanta among others in the United States, as well as in Dubai in the UAE. For more information on tickets and show dates, visit the Immersive Van Gogh* website.
*Correction: A previous version of this article linked to a website of a different exhibit. The correct website of Immersive Van Gogh is https://www.immersivevangogh.com.