Not that long ago, I watched the film At Eternity Gate with someone close to me, which was about the last months of Vincent van Gogh’s life. The movie was… not that good (despite the great Willem Defoe giving a hell of a performance, nats.) However, it did give me a little insight into van Gogh himself, and honestly, a lot more than I knew before.
I sort of had an idea of who van Gogh was, what with the pretty paintings and the ear slicing and all that. However, I didn’t know anything about how he painted over 900 paintings in less than ten years. Or how he was too poor to pay for models, so that’s why his subjects are farmers and landscapes and farmers. Or how he only had one painting sold his entire life. Or how Starry Night was painted in an asylum that he checked himself into after the aforementioned ear cutting.
He was a deep and tortured soul and it’s all in his paintings.
And for about an hour, I got to live inside that art, and it was magnificent.
The Immersive Van Gogh
I had heard about this exhibit when I was visiting Chicago and it was sold out for months and a ticket could not be found. Happily, I was invited to come check it out on it’s opening day here in NYC.
Here’s what they say about it:
The ORIGINAL Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit is thrilled to announce the once-in-a-lifetime exhibit will be located at Pier 36 NYC, a 75,000 square foot waterfront space located in Manhattan’s Lower East Side with spectacular views of the East River and the Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges.
To help reimagine this massive venue, Immersive Van Gogh has joined forces with Emmy Award-winning and Tony Award-nominated designer David Korins, known for his set design of countless Broadway hits including Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen.
You cannot miss it outside of Pier 36, as the entire building has been painted an iconic blue and adorned with sunflowers.
As you walk in, you’re greeted by a giant 3-D portrait of the artist himself, which is sure to show up in everyone’s Instagram for the rest of summer.
The atrium is beautiful all by itself, from the sunflower walls to the hanging paintbrushes from the ceiling.
After exploring the lobby, you line up in a dark hallway.
And enter the exhibit…
INSIDE THE MIND (AND ART) OF VAN GOGH
The Immersive Van Gogh experience is just that. You start in the darkness and things begin to slowly flicker to life. Drawings appear on the screen and fly off. The music, builds, slowly, until it fills the room just as much as the art.
And then, with a whoosh of color, you’re surrounded by bright yellow and enormous sunflowers that sway on the screen.
Everywhere, something is being created, literally animated into life. Painted doors open, pages turn, people walk, wheat blows, and it’s all happening on the walls, the floors, wherever you go.
The exhibit is broken into three different rooms and in each one, different reflective surfaces, from giant spheres to circular mirrors to alien-like shapes cover the floors, creating new ways to see the world around you.
What I can’t describe well enough is the music, which flows along with the art, from haunting orchestral works to iconic Édith Piaf (you know which one.) It made you want to close your eyes and get lost in the sound, but then you’d miss what was happening around you.
In certain parts of the room, there were outlined circles, creating your own private socially distanced viewing spaces.
It took about 15 minutes for someone to realize that the benches around the walls were moveable and then everyone positioned them into their perfect viewing spaces until it came to an end.
THE GIFT SHOP AND THE CAFE
Like all good experiences, there is a gift shop that you exit through, and it’s filled with all the sunflower hats and yellow teddy bears you could ever want.
One of the best parts of this section is a small tree filled with replicas of Vincent’s letters to friends and family. Using this tech, they are able to personalize a letter to you, and each one is different. (You, of course, are then able to buy this letter in the gift shop if you so desire.)
There is also a quaint little cafe, set up to look like a Parisian absinthe bar.
There, we bought a donut with raspberry frosting in a paint tube and created our own masterpiece.
I usually really dislike experience cafes, but since this is so thematically fun, it’s actually not a bad spot to sit and sip a cocktail and chat about what you just saw.
What Did We Think Overall?
As I said at the start, I’m not the biggest Van Gogh fan, but this is charming, warm, deep, depressing and haunting, all swirled together like a pallet of blues and greys. It made me want to know more about Van Gogh, to explore more of his work or just appreciate everything I haven’t appreciated until now.
There’s a joke about how you need to Van Gogh to this one before it disappears, but I’m not going to make it. Instead, I’ll just let the art speak for itself.