Immersive Van Gogh Drive-Through

It’s common to visitors at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam to get completely immersed in his paintings. Something in his art can almost hypnotize you; perhaps because we are conscious of some of his dramatic life events – such as cutting off his own ear or shooting himself to death – but one can stare at his brushwork until it gets deeply into your soul.

Therefore, I didnt think much of what the immersive word at Toronto’s Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit meant. I understood it involved projections and digital work, but mostly I just wanted to see and feel his art again.

Plus my expectations were quite low for a drive-in experience. Thanks again, COVID, for barring the freedom of walking around freely in a gallery.

Cars were lining up when we arrived about 10 min before our show time. I could have started my annoyance right there, but the fact is that “lining up” in a car is not bad at all. You’re sitting down, you are nice and warm, you can listen to the radio station, play with your phone, whatever. I almost wished all lines were like that! A friendly associate comes to greet us and give initial instructions: watch the entrance’s ramp, turn off engine and lights, etc. In a few minutes we could get in, and meanwhile we can start tuning in the radio station with the exhibition content. Cool! I love audio guides. Another point for the drive in experience.

The guide starts narrating some of Vincent’s life: born in the Netherlands, he didn’t start venturing as an artist until he was 27 years old, and died of self-inflicted gunshot at 37. A short and dramatic career that he though never to have been recognized, as it was after his death that he was given proper appreciation.

“The sadness will last forever” were his last words, and it resonates deep during the difficult years the world is going through. But, as the audio guide wraps this introduction while we drive into our spot inside the exhibit, “the darkest nights can bright with stars”. As such, this beautiful digital work brought joy to my world that was in need of that during these depressing times. Accompanied by evocative soundtrack that included Edith Pilaf, classical music, and Kill Bill’s Urami Bushi, the artwork is introduced on what seems to be Van Gogh’s painting trajectory: from portraits to landscapes, through his interest in human suffering and the beauty of starry nights. The added immersive digital experience brings life to the still work, with pages turning in a book, rotating windmills, and even his drawing lines being complete by coloring. It is incredible and kept me wondering how was this done. Creative director Massimiliano Siccardi managed to make this show an art piece of its own, making a ultra-modern experience out of 1800s impressionist art.

A​nd as the candles on Van Gogh’s hat blows out one by one, spectators are left open-mouthed, with goosebumps and hopeful that there is light even on darkest nights.

E​ven if we have to drive through it.

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