Imagine Van Gogh is an immersive, dream-like world

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Imagine Van Gogh | Vancouver Convention Centre | March 19 – August 29, 2021

Aside from putting on VR goggles and entering a virtual world, this is the closest you’ll get to feeling like you’re inside a Van Gogh painting. Surrounded by towering screens, the walls and floor completely covered in Van Gogh’s works, this exhibition is a dreamy environment where time seems to slow down.

The dynamic projections shift and change as the walls display various portions of an artwork, some with a full painting while others show a specific piece of a work enlarged so much it’s difficult to discern what the image is, and every brush stroke is visible from afar. As the projections shift through the full range of Van Gogh’s works, related pieces of art come together to create a unique atmosphere for each scene. From a series focusing on the eyes of Van Gogh’s self portraits, to blooming almond blossoms, and a segment on his Japanese influence — each moment of the exhibition has a different mood. Contributing to that mood is the score that could be taken off a classical music greatest hits album, including Schubert, Mozart, Bach, and Satie.

After a brief blackout, an imposing set of self-portraits appears accompanied by the booming sounds of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, No 13 Dance of the Knights. Scenes of sailboats that seem to be swaying in the breeze are accompanied by the soothing sounds of Satie’s Gymnopédies 1. Lent et douloureux.

Fans of Van Gogh’s flowers will love the wall-to-wall irises and towering sunflowers. Those who prefer his more pastoral works will gain a new perspective from seeing them larger than life with impressive detail and use of colour on full display. Autobiographical content including a few historical photographs and letters adds to the sense of being immersed in Van Gogh’s life and art. One of the most impressive moments is a giant self-portrait made up of Van Gogh’s other works. And if you think Starry Night is impressive, wait until it’s all you can see, surrounded by its swirling sky and the brilliant stars of Starry Night Over the Rhone.

While all of this is a treat for the senses, I was a bit disappointed that the exhibition was one room. Albeit one massive, very impressive room. I’m sure multiple rooms to wander through, each with its own mood or period of Van Gogh’s work, would be too expensive and complex to pull off for a travelling exhibition.  

There is, however, an introductory education room before you enter the immersive space, which includes biographical details about Van Gogh, background information about some of his art, and an explanation of the Image Totale concept used to create the exhibition. The information on the boards in this room is helpful and informative, but many people won’t want to spend the time to read it all, and most of it is on the website. It would also be nice to have a brochure with the information to refer to later.

The estimated duration for visiting the exhibition is an hour, and this gives enough time to read the educational materials and watch the projection loop about twice through — which I’d say is a minimum in order to view each scene from a new angle and take in all the detail of this massive installation.   

Imagine Van Gogh is a gallery experience like no other. Wandering around the massive room, taking in all the various angles and images that make up any given scene makes it a truly active experience that gives visitors the ability to decide where to position themselves in the room and how to experience the artwork in their own way.

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