Last week I attended the Van Gogh Immersive Experience in Austin, Texas. The exhibit is live and going strong in many cities across the United States, Mexico, and Europe.
There has been a lot of hype about this show, and it has become extremely popular. The “pop” hit of the post-Covid lockdown.
I was excited to have the opportunity to get out and mingle with friends and visit the “art happening.” I can’t really call it an art exhibit of Vincent Van Gogh’s work. It is its own unique beast — a digital light show that serves up the late nineteenth-century artist’s in a fast, and easily consumable way to the masses.
Tidbits of the artist’s life are on display before entry into the main light-show space. In a darkened anti-room, on large illuminated panels filled with quotes from letters Vincent wrote to his brother Theo, the visitor gets a brief glimpse into the artist’s life; his failures, his self-doubts, and his concerns that he will never amount to anything or be worthy of public praise.
Fast forward a hundred years plus, and here we all are, oohing and ahhing over Vincent’s oeuvre. His brilliant colors and short choppy brushwork are served up to us like a fireworks display. The images explode in front of us then melt into one another. The play of digital colors flows over pillars, walls, even the floor in a panoply of images mesmerizing us with their beauty.
On the one hand, I’m pleased to see that the Vincent Van Gogh Immersive experience is so popular. People who never would visit a museum to see his paintings get a chance to experience his work in a whole new digital techno way. They learn things about the artist’s challenging life, discover his work, perhaps for the first time, and leave the experience with a favorable impression.
I’m all about opening people’s eyes to
art and getting them to appreciate the
creative process, and perhaps in this
day and age, this is the way to do it.
Still, as I left the temporary canvas exhibit hall that vaguely reminded me of a circus tent, I couldn’t help but wonder if this slick event didn’t dumb down Vincent’s art a bit and if I hadn’t just been treated to a bit of trickery and magic. It was a digital feast for the eyes, yes. But we weren’t experiencing the actual paintings, learning their names and what exactly inspired them, or seeing in person the think impasto tactile paint that Vincent used to create his works of art. Instead, we saw a facsimile—a Disney movie fantasia-version of Van Gogh’s magnificent opera.
These days people want the short-hand
version, the cliff notes, the google synopsis
of things: Instead of reading the novel,
they prefer the abridged movie.
But…hold on… let’s go back to the other hand. I love art and admired the work that went into creating this show. In itself, the digital movie the exhibit’s artists created of Vincent Van Gogh’s work is lovely to behold. If you are pretty familiar with Van Gogh’s paintings, it is like seeing old friends displayed before you.
So what if the show is highly commercialized. I, confess, I too, have a Vincent Van Gogh coffee mug my dad gave me years ago, and for fun at this exhibit, I wore a skirt with Vincent’s Starry Night motif printed on the fabric. Am I guilty of commercializing Van Gogh’s work too by making it wearable art?
Does art have to be elevated—that is seen only
in a museum or in person, where one can
appreciate the original masterpiece?
Would Vincent have approved?
He, who never knew success in his lifetime and feared he “didn’t have what it takes” to be a famous AND a popular artist. Perhaps he’d be appalled and turning blue… or maybe he’d be tickled pink!