As I waited for my Uber in Dorchester for the opening of “Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience”, I could see my driver across the street. As he apparently waited for a traffic disruption to cross the intersection, I gave him a friendly wave. Then, without warning, he turned away from my apartment and left, the app informing me that my trip had been canceled.
Considering the seven months leading up to this point, it was a good start to my day. When events company Fever first announced in March that “Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience” would be coming to Boston, the exhibit was crippled by confusion, guest complaints, delays and a legal showdown. Less than 48 hours before its initial opening date in September, the company had still not announced the “secret location” of the exhibition, but had announced that its opening in Boston would be delayed due to logistical issues. At the end of September, the company quietly pushed back the opening date on short notice for the second time, to Wednesday, October 6.
After a frantic 50 minute hike involving trains, buses and a mile of jogging from Andrew Station, I arrived at the Strand Theater in Dorchester. There I was greeted by Mario Iacampo, CEO of Exhibition Hub, the company that designed “Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience” and in partnership with Fever. Iacampo spoke enthusiastically about his company’s efforts to give clients context on Van Gogh’s life by creating “both an exhibition and an experience”.
“Beyond the immersive part, I wanted to provide information on [Van Gogh] so that people understand the artist a little bit, but without getting too scientific about his technique, ”said Iacampo. “We tried to create the first part with his paintings and information about him so that people could understand him before embarking on the immersive experience. For me, it’s the icing on the cake.
If only that was the case.
The exhibition begins with a series of low-cost reproductions of Van Gogh’s most famous works, mounted on square canvases under hard spotlights. Besides the cheap facsimiles, there are Wikipedia-worthy paragraphs about the Dutch painter, as well as QR codes that open an app that repeats the same information verbatim by heart. The only impressive elements of the introductory exhibition are located in a few alcoves, where you will find shimmering digital projections of Van Gogh’s paintings, a preview of the main event of the exhibition.
Raising the curtains and entering the “immersive” experience, I was briefly in awe. Sunflowers and golden panoramas covered every square inch of the walls, which Iacampo said are 50 feet by 40 and 35 feet high. As I settled into one of the patterned seats in the corner of the room, I felt a wave of calm wash over me, aided by a radical orchestral soundtrack.
During these first moments, I was seduced by the creation of Iacampo. Sunflowers have given way to a shimmering 360-degree view of Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’, and later of ‘The Café Terrace at Night’. More than once, I instinctively pulled out my phone to capture the mood. I even appreciated that Iacampo left part of the gold leaf molding of the Strand Theater visible above the exhibit, grounding me in the historic theater without detracting from the immersive nature of the exhibit. .
But over the minutes, the illusion loses its luster. The film’s 35-minute runtime is complemented by inexpensive gadgets, including dozens of computer-generated Van Gogh floating heads dissolving into nothingness like a gigantic screensaver. Digital raindrops and thunderclaps punctuate the soundtrack, reminiscent of a lesser IMAX movie you probably saw two decades ago at the Museum of Science.
Throughout the film, various quotes from Van Gogh appear on screens in an aesthetically pleasing sans-serif font, accompanied by a calming, disembodied voiceover. Platitudes like “If you really love nature you will find beauty everywhere” and “What would life be if we didn’t have the courage to try anything?” Displayed above a swaying wheat field or twinkling lights looks less like a museum exhibit than the Instagram feed of an insufferable wellness coach / lifestyle guru.
After exiting the experience, customers can visit a coloring room, gift shop, and optional VR experience, which costs an additional $ 5. This is where the show’s last minute arrival in Boston was most obvious, as a cheerful but under-trained employee repeatedly told me to “keep watching”, even though I was describing in detail how I appeared to be stuck on a loading screen. . Once I found a working VR headset, I settled in for a tour of Van Gogh’s house and inspirations for his paintings, but found little that was worth paying an extra $ 5.
There is no doubt that Fever and Exhibition Hub will line their pockets with “Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience”. Tickets for the exhibition, which runs until February 28, 2022, have been scarce for months, and traveling pop-up experiences are a proven cash cow. (Fever has already raised tens of millions of dollars in funding, branding itself as “Netflix for Experiments.”) With Van Gogh’s art now in the public domain, there are currently six separate companies visiting immersive exhibits. making a pretty dime on the work of artists. (A second Van Gogh exhibition, “Imagine: Van Gogh,” arrives in Boston on December 21.)
Customers will have to decide for themselves whether $ 36 plus the fee for a handful of selfie-worthy moments offers better value than seeing van Gogh’s original works at the Art Gallery. I would say that instead of supporting the cynical cash grab that is “Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience”, consider purchasing a “Live, Laugh, Love” wall decor from Target for a cheaper investment and more. sustainable.
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