More than nine months after its first announcement, “Imagine Van Gogh: the immersive exhibition” from the creators of the original immersive Van Gogh exhibition that opened in France in 2008, is coming to Boston this week.
During the time it took artistic director Annabelle Mauger to bring her creation to SoWa Power Station in the South End, a second exhibition, known as “Van Gogh: the immersive experience” debuted at the Strand Theater in Dorchester in October. (The Dorchester version is just one of six Van Gogh exhibition copies currently touring the world that build on the success of the original exhibition by Mauger and co-creator Julien Baron.)
Both immersive experiences feature understated, museum-like introductions, with rooms offering greater context about the Dutch painter. Both are housed in an iconic space with floor-to-ceiling projections of Van Gogh’s works. And both have sold a good number of tickets during long stays in Boston, with “Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience” from October to February and “Imagine Van Gogh” in town from December 21 to March 20.
So which of the two Boston Van Gogh exhibitions should you buy tickets for? Having now seen both immersive experiences before their respective debuts, here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons of each.
Upon entering “Imagine Van Gogh”, visitors are transferred to a single room, where they queue to read facts about Van Gogh’s life and the story behind the creation of the exhibit, including the artistic statement and additional information on the technology used in its projections.
“Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience” features replica canvas prints of the painter’s works, along with biographical information on each and a handful of digitally enhanced versions of the artist’s best-known paintings that offer a preview of the digital experience to come. .
Verdict: “Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience” gives visitors more information before entering the main hall.
“Imagine Van Gogh” has the advantage of being staged at the SoWa Power Station, a 24,000 square foot space that allows visitors to feel totally immersed while still being spaced enough from other visitors, an important factor to the era of COVID-19.
The irregular shape of the space played a role when Mauger and Baron designed “Imagine Van Gogh”. The duo used 25 screens and 57 projectors to adapt the 2008 version of their exhibition in France specifically for the power station.
“I couldn’t ask for a better venue for this United States premiere,” Mauger told Boston.com. “Julien was just going to make the exhibition a large rectangle, and I said: ‘No! This place is huge, you can do whatever you want. We created this space with all these extra corners, which is better for me because I can put many images on many screens.
With its large size and a square pillar in the middle of the room providing another set of unique visuals, viewers could easily view the full 45-minute cycle of the experience three or four times and still spot new paintings.
By contrast, “Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience” offers a more intimate experience, which at least initially pulls you into a warm embrace more strongly than “Imagine Van Gogh.” Visitors can sit on chairs strategically placed around the room to provide the most immersive views of the 35-foot-tall walls. The gold leaf molding of the historic Strand Theater is visible above the exhibit, a small accent that fits perfectly into the overall presentation.
That said, walking in and out of ‘Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience’, it’s obvious that the space has been altered to accommodate the exhibit, not the other way around. You’ll need to walk through the seating aisles in the theater’s main auditorium to get to the experience, which is on the theater stage.
Verdict: Both have merits, but “Imagine Van Gogh” has the upper hand.
images and sounds
The most important factor when choosing between the two exhibits is the immersive experience itself, and there are arguments to be made for both ‘Imagine Van Gogh’ and ‘Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience’.
“Imagine Van Gogh” cycles through the artist’s paintings, which are projected in such a way that each of Van Gogh’s brushstrokes can be closely examined. There are a handful of motion-based animations on screen, but not so many that visitors will miss the opportunity to study the projected works up close.
“Imagine Van Gogh” is built on a subtle, unassuming classical music soundtrack, which swells with joy as Van Gogh’s brighter paintings appear and shifts to darker sounds as his darker hues enter.
The visuals for “Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience,” on the other hand, look much more computer-generated. In various places, dozens of Van Gogh’s floating heads appear before dissolving into nothingness like a gigantic screensaver. Digital raindrops and claps of thunder punctuate the soundtrack, shocking the viewer into contemplative reverie.
Throughout “Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience,” various Van Gogh quotes appear on screens in an aesthetically pleasing sans serif font, accompanied by a soothing, disembodied voiceover. Platitudes like “If you really love nature, you’ll find beauty everywhere” and “What would life be like if we didn’t have the courage to try anything?” displayed on a waving wheat field or floating lights looks less like a museum exhibit and more like the Instagram feed of a wellness coach or lifestyle guru.
Verdict: If you prefer a closer representation of Van Gogh’s paintings, “Imagine Van Gogh” is the one to visit. If you’re looking for something closer to an IMAX experience, “Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience” might be the best bet.
“Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience” offers an additional VR experience (for an additional $5) that offers a visual tour of Van Gogh’s childhood home and identifies some of the inspirations for his paintings. It’s nothing special, but for visitors who want a bit more biographical context for Van Gogh’s paintings, it might be worth it. “Imagine Van Gogh” has no such additions and has the smaller gift shop of the two exhibits.
Verdict: Although the main attraction is the most important factor, “Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience” tops this category.
Customers will have to decide for themselves if around $40 plus fees for a handful of selfie-worthy moments is better value than seeing Van Gogh. original works at the Museum of Fine Arts. I was initially quite skeptical after watching “Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience,” which was reflected in my October review. Having now attended both exhibitions, I am slowly coming to the idea that immersive experiences can co-exist with their more authentic museum counterparts.
Of the two exhibitions, I give the general advantage to “Imagine Van Gogh”. The exhibition uses an ideal space to display panoramic views of the artist’s work in a more authentic way while providing many Instagrammable moments.