Anna Groninger '24
Have you wondered what it might be like to step inside one of your favorite paintings? I have, on many occasions, and recently I was able to do this by attending the Van Gogh Immersive Experience here in DC.
Artsy or not, I am sure you are aware of Vincent Van Gogh, the Dutch Post-Impressionist painter, with his famous impressionist movement inspired paintings––for example, the abstract landscape of “Starry Night”, with its bright blue sky covered in yellow and white stars. This striking painting has popularized all of art culture, becoming important to today’s mainstream media––one reason why the Van Gogh Immersive Experience is able to attract such a large audience.
An immersive exhibit’s main goal is to engage the viewer in ways that aren’t done in an ordinary art gallery. This kind of immersion forces the viewer to experience the art using more than one of the five senses. Though newer, immersive art exhibits have quickly become favorable in our culture because of their appeal to the hyper-visual and tech-immersive audience. Many who are used to rapid-fire visuals and loud sounds coming from their devices may quickly lose interest in an unmoving painting displayed in a museum. Essentially, immersive art exhibits invite a larger audience, many of whom would skip the traditional museum.
The creators of the Van Gogh Immersive Experience successfully lure an unexpected audience towards the artist and his famous paintings. The viewer’s ears are stimulated by various calming background noises when entering a dark hallway. The use of light in the room immediately draws the viewer’s eyes to a series of glowing paintings projected onto blank canvases. I found myself pondering the future of museums and whether it was morally correct to profit from displaying images on walls while the real masterpieces exist elsewhere.
Already a fan of his paintings, I found myself glued to the informative paragraphs on the walls, where I learned about the briefness of Vincent Van Gogh’s career due to his long history of deep, family-rooted mental illnesses. I also learned about his relationships with his friends, a memorable one being his friendship with French painter Paul Gauguin. I gathered that the two influenced one another’s painting styles.
Thirty minutes into my visit, I found myself wondering if this was as immersive as this experience would be. I was not prepared for what came next. Looking for one of my friends, who had run off somewhere else, I remember another friend telling me, “I think she’s been in that room this whole time.” My friend pulled back a black curtain at the very end of the dark hall and revealed to me a massive room entirely different from the others. It was bright, full of color and liveliness, with a 360 degree movie projected around all the walls that looped repeatedly. Chairs and bean bags were placed so any viewer could leisurely watch the movie. It was difficult to contain my excitement after just entering a thrilling Vincent Van Gogh wonderland, full of color and emotion. Having found my lost friend, we all sat down on the carpeted floors and just existed in this magical cube for 45 minutes. It was indeed “immersive.” Beams of light taking the form of rivers and bubbles, as well as his signature sunflowers, were projected all over the floors. Many of Van Gogh’s famous paintings came to life through animation. As a lover of music, I enjoyed listening to the tunes that played in coordination with the visuals on the walls, and I surmised that the artists intended to evoke emotions in the viewers, such as sadness and joy, during certain parts of the movie. After spending a half an hour sitting here, I began to wonder whether this movie with little dialogue was an interpretation on Van Gogh’s life. The mystery of this space had me under the impression that this room, although about Van Gogh, was itself a work of art. This wonderland experience, with all its light and sound, was truly the artwork that a Gen Z teenager had been searching for all along.
Information for visitors: