Immersive Van Gogh in Scottsdale, AZ

The Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit in Scottsdale, Arizona

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Interactive Van Gogh Exhibit, but as a long-time fan of his art, I felt the need to experience it. I’ve heard and read about it often before it even came to Scottsdale, and everyone was raving about it. Personally, I prefer to see the actual, original artwork, but the exhibit lived up to the hype.

The magic of Van Gogh comes to life through the immersive experience. Combining music, art, and movement, the all-encompassing multi-sensory exhibit offers an opportunity to experience the famous Dutch Impressionist’s work in a new way. Projecting the art pieces in a relative chronological order, enhanced by the accompanying music, and the movement of the pieces, each painting morphing into the next, offered a view into the inner life of the artist.

The art of Vann Gogh in the Immersive Exhibit
The paintings morph into each other during the show

I took my 16-year-old daughter to the exhibit; in fact it was thanks to her that we even went. She loves art, and wanted to see this exhibit as soon as she learned that it was in town. It took us a few months to actually get there, but the experience was absolutely worth it, for both of us.

Experiencing the Art of Van Gogh in Scottsdale, Arizona

They held the Interactive Exhibit in the Lighthouse Artspace building, downstairs, in two halls. We entered through a smaller hall a few minutes after the show started. after lingering there a few minutes, we walked over the main, larger hall, filled with Van Gogh artwork, from floor to ceiling. We literally walked into one of his paintings.

Experiencing Van Gogh in Scottsdale

But before we entered the paintings, we spent a few minutes in the entrance hall, where several of Vincent’s letters to his brother, Theo, were projected on the walls of a small alcove. We stopped there to read a few – and recognize that we didn’t understand Dutch, even as I could read the artist’s handwriting.

Once upon a time I read these letters, at least their translations. Growing up with an art student brother, I had access to all his books, and many of them were about the impressionists, and Van Gogh in particular. So, for me, it was an opportunity to revisit these letters, and to talk to my daughter about them, since for her, it was the first time she’d seen them. After spending some time with the words of the artist, we entered the exhibit.

Visual Arts Meet Music and Cinematography

Projecting the art pieces on the large walls of the exhibit rooms, while they continually moved, one piece morphing into the next, literally brought Van Gogh’s work to life. It also helped put his work into chronological order. The changes of his artwork reflect changes in his life, and the exhibit made it obvious. The music was also fitting to the pieces.

Immersive Van Gogh

We watched the 20-minute show twice, almost three times in fact, from different rooms, different spots.

Since we entered after the show started, we stayed for the second time to see it from the beginning. While we weren’t thrilled with that part – we felt the music was too loud, the images flashed too fast, as it slowed down, we started enjoying the show more. So much, in fact, that we watched it the third time, from the mezzanine. This was my favorite spot to watch it all. Here, we weren’t in the middle of the paintings, and the light show, which helped me see it all, and kept me from getting dizzy.

I found the warning was accurate, when watched from the hallways: it could cause problems, from vertigo to motion sickness, to even seizures I would imagine for those prone to it. It did make me dizzy at times, and I ended up with a very strong headache, but I still feel it was worth it.

Overall, it was a moving experience.

From Potato Eaters to Sunflowers, and Beyond

The exhibit showcases Van Gogh’s life’s work, in somewhat of a chronological order. The presentation passes through the major places of Van Gogh’s artistic career, though the actual paintings are not always presented in the order they were finished.

Van Gogh's Sunflowers in the Immersive Exhibit

The show doesn’t present the already finished art pieces, but rather tries to follow the process of their creation, inviting us all into the psyche of Van Gogh, to try to understand, or feel his process of creation. We saw the images take shape in front of our eyes, from splashes of color or lines of color, to the actual painting we recognized. It didn’t linger for long though, but morphed into the next several image fragments, until we went through the next several paintings.

The show really did pull us in, reflecting the ranges emotions the artist went through while creating this large amount of work. The constantly moving visuals, paired with the music really made me feel the same emotions, dizzying at times with their intensity.

And that was Vincent Van Gogh: an artist with extremely intense emotions, searching for their expression. He felt the colors and shapes, and painted what he felt, not what he saw.

The Life Of Van Gogh Reflected In The Show

After an overall presentation of the artist and his most significant work, the show takes more of a chronological turn.

The Netherlands and The Potato Eaters

This starts with The Potato Eaters, his first great work on canvas, featuring dark, dull colors, and clearly defined figures. After studying art in Antwerp, he moved to Paris, and here, he started moving away from this classical way of painting and drawing.

Paris and Impressionism

One of the defining figures of Impressionism as a movement, Van Gogh believed that art should not imitate life, should not reflect the visual reality alone, but rather emotions, especially through color. He joined the Impressionists in their quest to reform art, to make it reflect emotions, feelings. He admired, and sometimes imitated other Impressionists, like Cézanne, Seurat, and Gauguin.


Immersed in a Van Gogh painting

His next stop was Arles, where he moved from Paris for a more relaxed atmosphere, where he was hoping to establish an artist community. Though he only lived in Arles for slightly over a year, this period was his most most productive as an artist. This is where he created over 200 oil paintings and over 100 drawings and watercolors. He loved the light there, that he felt made everything brighter. The paintings from this period reflect his obsession with bright colors, wheat and flower fields, including his famous sunflowers.

inside a Van Gogh painting in Scottsdale

This is where he lived in the famous yellow house, and invited Gauguin to join him. However, after living together for a while, their meeting did not end well, and during an especially heated argument Van Gogh threatened Gauguin with a razor, and after he left he ended up cutting off his own ear. After Gauguin left, Van Gogh was in and out of hospitals for a while, until he eventually committed himself to the Asylum in Saint Rémy.

In the Asylum at Saint Rémy. Starry Night

We witnessed the change through the paintings, showing the asylum, but slowly opening up the corridors to images of the outside world, including the starry nights. Eventually the images change to present one of this most famous painting, Starry Night.

Starry Night in the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit

The End Of A Life

Soon after, the self-portraits of Van Gogh fill the walls, including the one where ehe wears a hat filled with candles, something he used to do so he could paint late into the night. The candles are extinguished in the painting one by one, symbolizing, as we assume, the decline and loss of his life.

Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit – Is It Worth The Visit?

Like the name of the exhibit suggests, the exhibit is truly immersive. Surrounded by the colors and shapes of Van Gogh’s art, we were literally immersed into them, being part of it. The accompanying music emphasized the emotions.

Van Gogh Immersive

I’ve been reading about this show for at least a year before it opened in Scottsdale. It was so hyped up, apparently tickets were selling out like crazy, everybody who knew anything, or knew nothing about art or the impressionist, was visiting the exhibit.

Normally, I tend to stay away from too popular or too hyped-up events. But Van Gogh is one of the artists I read a lot about; he’s one of the artists who always makes me think of my artist brother, since we discussed his art and life often while as high schoolers, when my brother studied the Impressionists in art school. I even read his letters to Theo at some point – in translation, of course.

Van Gogh’s Popularity

In Van Gogh's world ...

Obviously, Vincent Van Gogh is a popular artist all over the world, including the US, although most people only recognize several of his paintings. And one of the things I enjoyed was that this exhibit also brought a larger and more diverse collection of his artwork, among the ones everyone recognizes.

Van Gogh in Scottsdale

I wish he knew how popular he would become. I wish he became popular in his lifetime, and didn’t have to struggle in poverty. Then again, in the history of art and literature, most of the best artists, poets, painters, were poor, misunderstood in their own lifetime. And this was maybe more palpable in Van Gogh’s case.

Are people all over the world obsessed with him because of his tragic life? Or does everyone indeed likes his art? I suspect it is a little bit of both. And, in the US at least, his popularity is probably due to the media just as much. Everyone knows about Van Gogh, though few people know about any of the other Impressionists, and even fewer understand their vision and ideas.

For whatever reason, the Dutch artist’s popularity endures in modern times, and the idea of stepping into animated projections of his paintings As we were leaving the exhibit, we were wondering what he would think of all of this, how different his life would’ve been if people would have appreciated his work in his lifetime.

Is the Immersive Exhibit Worth the Hype?

Immersive Van Gogh

Maybe it is too hyped up, especially in the US, but despite that, I felt the exhibit was worth my time. Like I mentioned earlier, I did stay and watched the show three times. I preferred seeing it from above though, not quite being in the middle of it. Being prone to motion sickness, sitting in the center of moving images was making me dizzy – though it added to the experience.

I don’t regret watching the show, though I would probably still prefer to see the artworks in a museum, in their original, two-dimensional forms. But the experience put me closer to the Dutch artist with a tragic life, who created some of the most enduring masterpieces in the world.

This new form of looking at art also gets people who normally would not go to an art museum to appreciate art works, and learn about art, and arts history in the process. The show brings art into the mainstream, and traditional art from the 19th century into the 21st.

And I feel it is fitting to do this with the works of Impressionists, specifically Van Gogh. He fought for innovation in the art world, he contributed to changing the way people looked at art in the late 1800s, to changing the very meaning of traditional art. Now, his work is used to change the way people in the 21st century look at and appreciate art from his era.

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