How Van Gogh’s Immersive Exhibits Challenge the Museum World

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But if there has been a real star in the entertainment world lately, it’s an emotionally tortured Dutch-born painter who died over a century ago. Sure enough, Vincent Van Gogh is hotter than ever – in large part thanks to numerous global exhibitions that have brought his key works, from “The Starry Night” to “The Potato Eaters” to life, through digital experiences. immersive screens that project images into gigantic spaces.

“It’s a new genre,” said Corey Ross, a Canada-based entertainment producer whose company, Lighthouse Immersive, brings his “Immersive Van Gogh” show to a dozen cities across North America to what appears to be. be an enthusiastic audience. Indeed, his current presentation of New York, settle down a pier who hosted everything from basketball events to a comic book and toy convention, is sort of a holiday reminder that capitalizes on remaining demand from a previous run this year.

Ross and her team, including partner producer Svetlana Dvoretsky, estimate that they collectively sold around 4.5 million tickets, translating into roughly $ 250 million in revenue, for all of their “Immersive Van Gogh” shows, including including those in Chicago, Toronto and San Francisco. And that’s not counting $ 30 million in ancillary income from the gift shop: can you say Van Gogh themed teddy bears? (They are available in four sizes, priced from $ 16.99 to $ 69.99.)

“It’s a new genre”


– Canadian entertainment producer Corey Ross on Van Gogh’s immersive shows

Ross has a lot of competition, however. While museums have generally avoided such exhibitions, several other entertainment producers have developed similar Van Gogh shows – in some cases, years ago. Bruce Peterson, an Australian promoter, says he led the way with a presentation in Singapore in 2011. He adds that his company, Grande Experiences, has since presented his show, titled “Van Gogh Alive”, in more than 70 cities across the country. world. , including a few in the United States

Peterson says his idea was born when he took his children to some of the major art museums in France and Italy. “My kids were starting to get bored and they were like, ‘Let’s have an ice cream’,” he recalls. This led him to believe that there had to be a way to bring the great masters to life that would appeal to all ages and all levels of knowledge and appreciation of the art.

So Peterson developed a method of turning paintings into moving pictures – a far cry from what you would see in your local art museum, where the approach of framed pictures on a wall has been in place for generations. “Traditional museums are a bit more handcuffed,” Peterson said neutrally.

Yet Van Gogh’s immersive shows didn’t become a global sensation until recent years – in particular, the era of the pandemic. Some players in the entertainment industry say the concept was given a huge boost when Netflix’s hit series “Emily in Paris” premiered a scene at a Van Gogh exhibition.

But some also note that it was the pandemic itself that caused Van Gogh’s boom. Producers of live shows were challenged by the fact that it became impossible to offer traditional events, whether concerts or shows like the circus or ice skating shows, when the restrictions on the crowds remained in place or that the public was simply afraid to sit in theaters.

At the same time, some people were nevertheless anxious to go out. Van Gogh’s shows, which easily allow for generous spacing due to the size of the halls, emerged as an alternative to offer to producers – and one which quickly proved attractive to an entertainment-hungry audience, even with prices of high prices. tickets of up to around $ 50 for what often amounts to little more than a 30-minute continuous loop movie. (In most venues, however, audiences can stay as long as they want.)

“I thought it was a wonderful way to experience art,” said Shari Bayer, a New York resident who recently saw the “Immersive Van Gogh” show in New York – during a special presentation that featured allowed participants to see it while doing yoga, no less.

Van Gogh with a side of yoga: At the “Immersive Van Gogh” exhibition in New York, you can stretch and see at the same time.

Carol Fox and associates

Producers are boosted by the fact that shows can be created at relatively low cost. Mario Iacampo, managing director of Exhibition Hub, another company that presents Van Gogh shows across the world, says the initial investment can be around $ 250,000 in digital production itself with costs of around $ 250,000. physical installation of $ 50,000 to $ 75,000 in each city. It also helps: Van Gogh’s works are in the public domain, so no license fees are involved.

And, of course, Van Gogh’s works, with their swirling and impressionistic quality, have a natural appeal to audiences. “His art transcends time,” said Iacampo.

Not that art critics haven’t had issues with Van Gogh’s various immersive shows – some find them light and light entertainment at best and appalling distortion of the artist at worst. “Even the basics of Van Gogh are not easily captured in photographic reproductions,” said a New York Times reviewer of the two Van Gogh shows in town (yes, there is another one that has been offered in town).

Ross, the promoter of the Pier 36 show, says the reviews aren’t fair, saying these digital, immersive experiences shouldn’t be seen as traditional museum shows, but that’s often the way art critics have them. approach. Ross is also not surprised that museums have generally given up on doing their own immersive experiences, although he says it probably has more to do with the fact that they need much larger spaces than galleries. standard.

Others suggest that museums hesitate for different reasons. Seasoned museum consultant Mark Walhimer says the fact remains that Van Gogh’s exhibits are not really what might be considered museum quality. “I don’t think anyone would say these screenings are works of art in and of themselves,” he said.

Newfields, an Indianapolis space that incorporates the Indianapolis Museum of Art, is a notable exception. He has created a permanent digital art showcase, called the Lume, and is currently presenting a Van Gogh show in partnership with Bruce Peterson’s Grande Experiences.

Jonathan Berger, a manager at Newfields, believes immersive experiences represent a new generation way to appreciate art, although he admits that it may take some museum visitors a while to see them that way.

Again, Berger said, “It wasn’t that long ago that photography was seen as something that didn’t belong to museums.”

Berger adds that the experiments can spark interest in seeing the actual paintings, which should work in favor of the museum world. He is quick to note that the Newfields Van Gogh exhibit features a gallery that includes an actual Van Gogh. “I have never seen so many people huddle around our Van Gogh,” he said, as if to emphasize his point.

Regardless of how Van Gogh’s immersive shows are viewed by the art world as a whole, it is clear that they are not going away anytime soon. On the contrary, they stimulate interest in the development of shows featuring the works of other artists. Ross and his team have already created similar exhibitions around Gustav Klimt and Frida Kahlo.

“This immersive space will continue to grow,” said Ross.

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