by Shelley A. Sackett
“Imagine Van Gogh the Original Immersive Exhibition in Image Totale©” has been advertising its arrival in Boston since last March. At last, the wait is over and, in a nutshell, it was well worth it.
It is hard to overstate the impact of walking into a 24,000 square foot architectural wonder that has been transformed into a blank canvas for multi-projections of 200 of the Dutch artist’s most vibrant and famous paintings. Viewers don’t just enter a gallery; they enter a world, miraculously passing through a magical keyhole that allows us to become part of these masterpieces.
There is no center or periphery. Visitors are indeed, as promised by the introductory panel, “guided by their emotional intelligence, allowing them to imagine their own Vincent Van Gogh.”
The floor is part of the canvas and it pans in and out to coordinate with the images cast above, which also move. The effect is both thrilling and dizzying. We literally enter the artist’s world of dreams (and nightmares), transported on a journey to the heart of his work. Brushstrokes are blown up to the size of unfurled flags, projected in indescribably fine detail that invite us to dive in.
A timed musical loop completes this multisensorial magical mystery tour. Prokofiev, Saint-Saëns, Mozart and especially Délibes’ delicious “Flower Duet” encourage us to move about the room in concert with the tactile brushstrokes that dance around us.
This is not passive viewing; each one of us is free to wander around, exploring and experiencing in their own way and, most importantly, at their own pace. The educational panels that efficiently introduce us to the nuts and bolts behind the technology as well as details of Van Gogh’s life provide both content and effect. Easy-to-read panels hang suspended in a welcoming anteroom, inviting yet not overwhelming.
Van Gogh was born in 1853, in the Netherlands, home to bleak dark winters. From early childhood, he showed signs of a moody and agitated temperament that would torment him throughout his life. His father was a Protestant preacher, and he first chose to follow in his footsteps. He became a preacher in London and returned to the mining town of Boringe to try his hand at evangelizing.
Instead — and lucky for the art world — he turned to painting as a way to express sympathy for the miners’ plight in dark tones and somber moods. By 1886, he was living in Paris with his art dealer brother Theo, hobnobbing with the impressionists and developing his own style of bright colors and bold brushstrokes.
The even brighter sun of the south of France — his “Arles Period” — magnified Van Gogh’s use of primary colors and brash, swirling brushstrokes. “Van Gogh’s Greatest Hits” are all here, from Starry Nights to Sunflowers, Irises, Self-Portraits, Portrait of the Postman, Church at Auvers and more.
The Introductory panel to this astonishing accomplishment is worth taking a moment to digest, no matter how strong the magnetic pull to dive into the exhibit, for it sets the stage and pays homage to its creator, Total Image©. The Boston exhibit is the US Premiere of the first immersive exhibition, presented in 2008 in France and created by Annabelle Mauger. Since then, there have been numerous smaller versions inspired by the original, but make no mistake — this one is the real deal.
‘Imagine Van Gogh the Original Immersive Exhibition in Image Totale©” is at the SoWa Power Station, Boston, through March 19, 2022. To buy tickets or for more information, go to http://www.imagine-vangogh.com.