Should I Stay Or Should I Van Gogh?

March 18, 2022

Over the summer, Vancouverites had a chance to immerse themselves in the paintings of Van Gogh. The Vancouver Convention Centre transformed into a gallery with 300,000 cubic feet of projections animating classics such as Starry Night and Sunflowers with an accompanying soundtrack featuring music from classical composers. Before entering the exhibition room, attendees learn about the life of Van Gogh, including details about his lifelong struggle with mental illness.

Once inside, the video of the paintings spans thirty minutes and plays on a loop. Due to an enforced timed entry to maintain COVID protocols, attendees have just over an hour to immerse themselves in the exhibit. Other artists’ portfolios, such as Picasso and Da Vinci, have also been transformed into an immersive experience for audiences to enjoy worldwide. The technology used for these exhibits is Image Totale designed by Annabelle Mauger and Julien Baron.

The captivating large-scale moving images projected onto the walls and floor rivet the audience by highlighting brush strokes, details and colour. The Immersive Van Gogh exhibit costs anywhere from the standard $39.99 for the standard adult rate and runs up to $99.99 per person for a VIP package. The price alone is prohibitive, mainly because the collection on display isn’t original artwork, but rather a video compilation. Meanwhile, the fee to attend the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, and see the original Starry Night in person will cost an adult $25.00.

Even though some attendees can have emotional reactions to the immersive experience, it doesn’t compare to the experience of seeing a century-old painting up close and personal. In addition, the entire concept of rebranding a traditional artist’s work through technology is a product of commercialization. The creators of these exhibits are implementing new strategies to capitalize on the growing obsession of misunderstood classical artists. Especially Van Gogh, whose struggle with depression mirrors many individuals today.

Remember when the “art hoe” aesthetic became popularized by Tumblr culture in 2015? It seems that curators recognized the popularity and therefore capitalized on it by creating an exhibit and charging an exorbitant entrance fee — knowing that it would be shared widely on TikTok and Instagram Reels. I’ll say it once and I’ll say it again: art galleries and museums should be free. Furthermore, there is much debate surrounding whether commercialization ruins art. The Immersive Van Gogh exhibit is no exception to how money has turned into a catalyst for the digitalization of the artistic experience at the cost of its artistic authenticity.

On the other hand, the exhibit travels across North America, reducing barriers to access for those who cannot afford to purchase a plane ticket to see Starry Night in person at the MoMA. However, the digital rebrand is no replacement for seeing the painting in person. You cannot picture each brushstroke’s precision, detail, and emotion in a slide show where each image only stays on the screen for a few minutes. For someone who doesn’t have a passion for art history, the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit may fulfill their desire for art. Meanwhile, for those who have studied these paintings in-depth, the display is lacklustre, dull and simply not worth the money. Despite including a section that goes in-depth into the story of an artist, there remains an absence of intimacy only achievable when face-to-face with a work of art that you have admired for years from a screen.
Save your money, attend a local art exhibit, and support a gallery struggling to stay open amidst rising rental prices. Some local galleries that come to mind are Crack Gallery, Slice of Life, Gallery Gachet, Griffin Art Projects and OR Gallery.Or instead, use the money you would have used for an entrance fee to Immersive Van Gogh and purchase art from a local artist.

Originally published in Capilano Courier. Read the online version here.