Imagine Van Gogh
The original immersive exhibition in Image Totale©
Annabelle Mauger & Julien Baron, Artistic Directors and creators
Curated by Androula Michael
Scenography by Annabelle Mauger & Julien Baron
Animation and effects by Julien Baron & Donatien Zébi
Translations by Sarah Jackson
Musical research by Gérard Thouret
Review by Kitty Drexel
BOSTON — I tried not to have expectations entering Imagine Van Gogh.
Without intending to, I expected Imagine Van Gogh to be like Yayoi Kusama’s “Love Is Calling” which ran at the ICA. Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms is immersive and kaleidoscopic. Imagine Van Gogh is also immersive. Van Gogh’s paintings are magnified and set to the music of classical artists Saint-Saëns, Mozart, Bach, Delibes and Satie. It makes Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings accessible to an audience that can pay the ticket price.
One might think the exhibits might be similar. They are not. Kusama’s “Love Is Calling” was engrossing and welcomed play from patrons. It was silly and fun and was still art. One could access it at a maximum of $15 per ticket. Members, students, and library patrons could get in for free. It ran at the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston from Sep 24, 2019 – Mar 13, 2020.
Imagine Van Gogh is a 60-minute slideshow against walls and the floor at an exorbitant price range of $39.00 – $49.99 per adult, $35.99 – $44.99 per child, or $129.99 – 144.99 for a family of four. The exhibit takes itself too seriously for a glorified selfie shoot location.
Upon entering the building in which the exhibition is held, patrons are ushered to a chamber of hung frames detailing Van Gogh’s life, times, and inspirations. Patrons can read them in any order.
After another short, dark hallway, patrons enter the exhibit space. An expansive ballroom has been turned into an exhibition space for Imagine Van Gogh. Every surface is an opportunity to view Van Gogh’s art from a new perspective.
The Imagine Van Gogh website says, “The warping techniques used for Imagine Van Gogh adapt the surface to the projected image… Warping consists in perfectly adjusting the projected work to the scenographic surface. This technique frees the work from the gravitational subjection that befalls any earthly object.”
This is technical jargon to say that the engineers blew up the original art to make it bigger, and it still looks pretty. From an engineering standpoint, I’m sure it’s fascinating. The exhibit could also be fun for art geeks and historians. For the person looking for An Experience, it is not.
Van Gogh’s most famous pieces, “The Starry Night,” “Irises” and “Sunflowers,” are reflected on the walls and floor for mere minutes. It’s just long enough to get a few good personal photos or selfies. Not long enough to truly contemplate the meaning of “The Starry Night,” to examine brush strokes and layering techniques from inside the painting.
And that’s my real beef with Imagine Van Gogh. This is “art” that doesn’t invite deeper connection with the material. This exhibit takes Van Gogh’s masterworks, chops them into digestible pieces for a wide, impatient audience with enough money while promising depth it cannot provide. We’re supposed to take photos of it, maybe dance around in the minimal animation, and move on.
Imagine Van Gogh is pretty but it isn’t the same as examining Van Gogh’s works in person. It’s not even a cheap alternative (because it isn’t cheap). Attendees won’t even know what the originals look like when they leave.
Imagine Van Gogh leaves a patron imagining what Van Gogh’s paintings are really like. It is what happens when “art” happens to a person. It’s a thing a person can say they’ve done. It’s keeping up with the Joneses. It’s bougie.
Our experience wasn’t unpleasant. It was lackluster. It required no deep thought. If that’s what you want out of art, go and get it.
If offered the Starry Night event ice cream, don’t eat it. It tastes blue dye and marshmallow disappointment. The cocktail is okay. Needs more gin.