A peek inside ‘The Immersive Experience’
The Van Gogh Cincinnati: The Immersive Experience promises to be just that, immersive.
From the moment you enter the space, located inside the renovated former TJ Maxx on Fourth Street, Downtown, you’re met with paintings, quotes and sketches from Vincent van Gogh, the titular artist who painted some of the most well-known works of art in the world.
Born in the Netherlands but spending much of his life in France, van Gogh was relatively unknown during his life but skyrocketed to posthumous fame, as he had completed around 2,000 artworks, including over 900 paintings.
Sure, Cincinnati is already home to its own van Gogh painting. “Undergrowth with Two Figures,” finished in 1890, resides at the Cincinnati Art Museum. But the immersive experience, which opened in Cincinnati in June and will run through at least September, according to the website, aims to fully immerse visitors in van Gogh’s life and artworks through a variety of mediums.
The experience is divided into four parts: The 360-degree immersive room, virtual reality, an art-and-life section and a studio.
If you’ve wanted to experience the exhibit but aren’t willing to pay for it ($34.90-$44.90 for adults and $19.90-$22.90 for ages 4-12), we made our way through the encounter ourselves. Here’s what we found.
Van Gogh in Cincinnati:Immersive van Gogh exhibit is open and ready to wow ‘everybody in Cincinnati’
Part one: Van Gogh’s art and life
It was fairly busy the weekday morning we went to check out the immersive experience. While there weren’t long lines or a wait to get inside, there were enough people to fill the various spaces all through the exhibit.
Just off the Fourth Street entrance un-surreptitiously adorned with a “Starry Night” print and through the small entrance where tickets are scanned is a winding hallway that begins the experience.
It takes you through van Gogh’s personal life and career, starting with a giant, colorful bust of the artist with moving images projected over it, then directing you toward a timeline of his life.
Quotes from his life (many coming from his letters to his younger brother, Theo) played throughout the experience, showing his thoughts on color, life, sadness and his art.
Along the walls hung prints of van Gogh’s work, including his series on sunflowers, various self-portraits and, of course, the famous “Starry Night.” From there, this section of the museum gives a full-size, 3D rendering of the painting “Bedroom at Arles.”
Part two: The 360-degree immersive room (Or, what you came to see)
As if the first part of the exhibit hadn’t already completely transformed from its TJ Maxx roots, up a flight of stairs and into the huge projection of van Gogh’s works was enough to take you out of the former department store mindset.
The two-story room, filled with chairs, rugs and elevated surfaces for visitors to sit on, allowed van Gogh’s paintings to literally come to life. The animation allowed birds to fly, clouds to float by, plants to sway in the breeze and boats to rock on the water.
Visitors inside were allowed to sit, stand, lay down or move about. Whatever it took to bring the experience to life.
Through music and animation, the artworks flowed from one into the other, reflected on the four walls and on the carpet below in the roughly 30-45 minute encounter. And throughout, a voiceover gave more of van Gogh’s quotes, presenting a journey through his life, development as an artist, struggles with mental health and, ultimately, his untimely death.
This is the most recognizable part of the exhibit, the part you’re likely to see friends who have visited posting about on social media. “Have you ever dreamt of stepping into a painting?” advertisements beckon, and step inside a painting, indeed, you do.
The video, which plays continuously, ends with a real picture of what van Gogh looked like: the one confirmed photograph of him, an unbiased look at the artist who painted himself often.
Part three: The studio
After the immersive room, visitors can become inspired by van Gogh’s art and color their own versions of a number of his works in the adjacent studio.
After coloring, you can scan the completed work to appear on a large projected wall, and you can choose to keep your art for yourself or pin it up in the room.
Part four: Virtual reality
If you’re prone to becoming queasy, hold on to your hat. The last part of the immersive experience is optional, free for VIP members and an extra $5 for other attendees.
It’s a roughly 11-minute virtual reality experience (yes, complete with the headset) that walks attendees through van Gogh’s life in Arles and Saint-Remy de Provence, France, where he reportedly was in the best spirits and painted some of his most well-known works.
You begin the virtual reality in that famous “Bedroom at Arles,” traveling outside through the wheat fields of Arles, through the woods, through the town of Saint-Remy de Provence before ending at the waterfront, all while stopping along the way to examine many of the paintings completed there.
The positive is that it’s virtual reality, so while wearing the headset, you’re able to look up, down, all around and experience Southern France through van Gogh’s eyes. But the negative is that it’s also virtual reality, so it’s a little disorienting if you’ve never done it before.
The experience ends there, which, of course, leads right into a van Gogh-themed gift shop.
So, is Van Gogh Cincinnati: The Immersive Experience worth a visit?
It could very much depend on how big of a van Gogh fan you are, but it is a fascinating experience to watch some of the most famous paintings in the world come to life around you.