Van Gogh Lite
December 16, 2021
Immersive Van Gogh is at Pier 36 in Manhattan. Michael and I were curious to have the experience since we design and develop immersive and other digital interactive experiences.
It is immersive! Projected images cover every wall from ceiling to floor, corner to corner, and spray across every inch of floor and the people standing and sitting on it. They cover 500,000 cubic feet of projections, 60,600 frames of video, 90,000,000pixels, 75,000 square feet.
The images are an animated mashup of fragments taken from Van Gogh’s paintings moving horizontally across the walls or vertically rising up from the floor. Clearly a lot of thought and craft went into designing the transitions from one set of images to another, so there is always something happening all around you, all the better to frame another selfie.
The fragmented paintings have been woven into a series of new, mural size images, and are accompanied by a loud and dramatic musical score with several recognizable tunes. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether the music or the imagery is more attention grabbing. It’s easy to imagine that without a soundtrack the experience would be silent animated wallpaper.
One problem for me is that nothing about the experience feels like it has an authentic connection to Vincent Van Gogh, his life, his struggles and his deeply moving, beautiful paintings. Instead it’s an undemanding, passive, colorful experience that washes over you and sends you out to spend as much time in the gift store as you have in the “galleries.”
I’ve participated in several conversations about whether Immersive Van Gogh and other experiences like it are “interactive.” Some people say Yes! If you consider being able to walk around while images are projected on your body and you can take selfies to be interactive, then yes. However if, like many other museum professionals, you define an “interactive” experience as one where visitors’ act and the exhibit responds to those acts by changing in someway, whether it’s digital or analogue, then No!
It’s entirely possible that if this was all you knew of Van Gogh, you’d be disappointed by seeing the real paintings - so small, intimate and deeply emotional in a way Immersive Van Gogh is not. Yet it is a pleasing entertainment for many, many people. These kinds of immersive experiences are proliferating at a rapid rate. I hope they become a portal leading to a deeper interest in artists and their ideas, rather than a dead end. It's an interesting phenomenon to start studying.