Van Gogh Immersion Experience, Minneapolis, MN
Vincent Van Gogh. His very name conjures up a variety of images, depending on how one has been introduced to him during one’s life. Artist. . . Painter. . . Used thick globs of paint. . . Sunflowers. . . Starry Night. . . France. . . Mental illness. . . Cut off his own ear. . . Whatever the image, the name alone makes a lasting impression.
As an artist, a lover of art history and traveler to museums that house great art, the life and works of Van Gogh have topped my list.
I have experienced Van Gogh in Amsterdam, Southern France and museums around the western world. I read the biographical novel and watched the film “Lust for Life” and felt his pain and heartbreak. Now I can add a “Van Gogh Immersion” to my list!
Side note: I have always loved “LOVE” by Robert Indiana. It has been included in two of my blogs: Mpls. Sculpture Garden and for my wedding Anniversary. The sign next to the GOGH shares the following fun credits: “Just as Vincent Van Gogh was inspired by the work of other artists, so are we! Robert Indiana’s “LOVE” sculpture is beloved around the world. It inspired the Creative Director, Randy Wong-Westbrook, to make our first GOGH sculpture in the same style. We are grateful to the Indiana estate for licensing us this beautiful piece and letting us put our own stamp on it.”
Who is Van Gogh?
Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) was an artist who created hundreds of paintings during his life time, but sold only one. Today, he is one of the most revered artists in history; his paintings are worth millions of dollars.
Like many great artists, his story is colorful – and troubled. Considered a Dutch artist, he spent much of his life and created most of his work in France.
Many have wanted to know what it might feel like to step inside Vincent Van Gogh’s mind. The goal of the creators of the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit is to do just that; to create an experience where you can enjoy the brilliance of Van Gogh firsthand. From my experience, I believe that they did.
The Exhibition Site
The promotional materials promised: “From creators of the blockbuster exhibit seen by over 2 million visitors in Paris and after a sold-out run in Toronto, the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit makes its mark at a historic Venue in the heart of Minneapolis! Lose yourself in 500,000 cubic feet of monumental projections animating Vincent van Gogh’s oeuvre. Wander through entrancing, moving images that highlight brushstrokes, detail, and color – truly illuminating the mind of the genius…” I attended this exhibit this week; it did not disappoint!
The entry to the exhibit was filled with fun Van Gogh items such as these oversized tubes of paint in his paint box. A copy of the one painting he sold is shown in the lid.
(Created by Bay Area based scenic designer Ray Wong-Westbroooke, Star Tribune 18 August 2021)
I first learned about the Van Gogh Immersion Exhibition in spring of 2020 when it began in Amsterdam, home of the Van Gogh Museum. I was ready to fly to the Netherlands had it not been for the pandemic shut down of Europe! I was so excited when I learned it was coming to Minneapolis!
My daughter, and fellow world traveler, eagerly agreed to go with me to celebrate her upcoming birthday!
The exhibition is easy to get to at the Lighthouse Immersive, 1515 Central Avenue NE, Minneapolis, just a block north of Broadway Avenue.
The Immersion Experience
Immersive digital art museums have drawn crowds around the world over the past few years. Now, people in the USA get to enjoy this 360-degree experience set to music in five traveling shows featuring the work of Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh. Distinct but similar, they place visitors in the middle of a large-scale moving images that are projected onto the walls, ceilings, and floors in a warehouse space or large gallery.
Part of the fun of the event was people moving around, taking photos, sitting, laying, walking… Tall mirrors set up through out the room made the projections come alive even more – and made great opportunities for wide-screen selfies.
Music was appropriate to the scene and complemented the scenes well. It was relaxing. I did not feel it was too loud, but earplugs were available if needed.
Vibrancy was exuded by those attending. They seemed excited to be there and joyful as they left.
It is designed to create an experience that completely immerses you in some of Van Gogh’s creations. And it did!
Social distancing circles were for health and safety but added to the ambiance – and also gave everyone their own space.
I saw people of all ages – from elderly using walkers and canes to teens sprawling on the floor enjoying the whole scene.
Currently open and running through October 31, 2021, the exhibit features and impressive 500,000 cubic feet of projections, 60,600 frames of video, and 90,000,000 pixels.
Taking photos was encouraged – and rather than make it seem commercialized as some critics noted – I felt it added to the experience! I love taking photos and capitalized on the opportunity.
Classic pieces were featured throughout, including Starry Night, Sunflowers, The Bedroom, and much, much more.
Sunflowers are a major theme in Van Gogh’s art. Sunflowers were the theme in the exhibition entry and popular with the items in the gift shop.
There are a number of versions of Sunflower paintings by Van Gogh. Most were painted in the Yellow House in Arles to decorate the guestroom he prepared for his friend Paul Gauguin.
Interestingly, sunflowers were not a part of the actual immersion experience! In fact, his still life paintings were not incorporated – maybe because they are “still life” and not easy to make them “move?!”
“The night is more alive and more richly colored than the day” ~Van Gogh
An all-time favorite painting of Van Gogh is his Starry Night, painted during his time in the asylum in St. Remy in the South of France.
The show was a perfect format to watch the stars and the clouds literally roll across the sky!
Difficult to show in still picture,s one of the highlights of the experience was how the creators seamlessly moved from one artwork to the next to create one 30 minute masterpiece.
One of my favorite Van Gogh paintings is that of his irises…
“Irises” was painted while he was hospitalized in St. Remy in the South of France in 1889. Working from the asylum’s garden, each iris is unique.
He carefully studied their movements and shapes to create a variety of curved silhouettes bounded by wavy, twisting, and curling lines.
The irises were perfect for the immersion experience as they bent and swayed all around us in the exhibition display as if were in the midst of a gigantic sea of irises!
Another favorite Van Gogh paintings are the ones of his bedroom in St. Remy in the South of France where he was hospitalized near the end of his life.
I enjoyed how we experienced the process from simple chalk sketches to finished product as if we were watching Van Gogh work through the creative process, one step at a time.
Having visited Van Gogh’s room in the hospital in St Remy in the South of France where he created it, made the experience all the more meaningful.
“Sidewalk Cafe at Night”
As a a lover of art history and travel to museums that house great art, the life and works of Van Gogh have topped my list.
One of my favorite experiences was a visit to Arles in the South of France where one can follow a trail of sites Van Gogh painted and see what they look like today. (See photo far left)
This one of the “Sidewalk Cafe at Night” was highlighted in the show. It’s vibrant yellow against the deep blue creates a wonderful welcoming setting for the immersion experience.
Olive Trees were a subject Van Gogh painted a lot, but this one at the Mia (Minneapolis Institute of Art, MN) is my favorite.
The mountain in the background is the identifying factor that it was taken on the grounds of the hospital at St. Remy.
“The Potato Eaters”
The Potato Eaters is one of Van Gogh’s early and most famous works.
Though lacking in color and movement as many of his paintings – and much of the rest of the show – this was one of my favorite transitions in the exhibition.
It begins with a stark black background.
Then we witness the simple white lines of the overhead light begin to form.
Slowly, we watch the steam rise from the hot potatoes on the table.
Faces are slowly added, one by one, until the painting is complete.
I was amazed and how accurate the final scene was to the actual painting.
“Prisoner’s Exercising” is one of Van Gogh’s lesser known paintings. This is probably because it hangs in Moscow, Russia and not a western museum more easily accessible to western travelers like me.
It seems like a strange subject, but. . . maybe not. The prisoners moving in an endless circle has been interpreted as Van Gogh being caught in a never-ending cycle of mental illness. It was painted during Van Gogh’s time at St. Remy, near the end of his hospital stay, and copied from another artist’s painting.
The movement of the prisoners around the circle was an interesting – and very effective – display in the medium of the exhibition.
The Gift shop was busy and lots of bags were walking out of the store!
This tells me that people were excited about the exhibit and wanted to remember it by taking a piece of it home with them. Items included everything: posters, clothing, dishes, books, key rings, mouse pads… you name it, it was probably there! Prices were typical for museum gift shops.
In the end, this was a fabulous experience and well worth the wait – and the cost. As a lover of art, art history, and Van Gogh, I felt that it did not compete with, nor could it be compared with, seeing his art in a museum, or even a textbook. It was meant to be experienced, to be immersed in – and it accomplished that with flying colors (literally!)! I can only imagine the technical skill (an art in itself) that went into everything involved with its production!
- Tickets: on sale now online at https://vangoghmsp.com/
- Cost: Basic ticket ($39.99 + tax + $service charge) is all that is needed. The Premium and VIP tickets ($10-$15 extra) include things like a poster, access to seat cushions (not needed – there are benches available inside the exhibit if needed: first come, first served.)
- Getting there: 1515 Central Avenue NE, Minneapolis, MN USA. It is north of downtown Minneapolis, one block north of Broadway Avenue.
- Parking: No on-street parking on Central Avenue. Valet Fee parking ($10) at the entrance. FREE PARKING in the lots just east of the building. Take the alley on the south side of the building which opens up to plenty of parking spots. Then walk about a block back to the exhibit entrance.
- Sociable Cider Werks is a local brew pub with a food wagon just the the NE of the exhibition building and north of free parking lot. It is a great place to stop after the show and debrief! They are opening at noon on show days to accommodate show visitors. (more info below)
Traveler Tips: how to maximize your visit
- Timed tickets allow 20 minutes before and after your time. We got there about 15 minutes prior and walked right in, allowing time to take photos in the lobby and using the restroom. Once your left the exhibit, you could not return.
- Once inside, Go directly to second room: There are two rooms inside the exhibition space. They both display the same show so don’t bother with the first room. It is cramped, has poor sight-lines, and lower ceilings. The second room has taller ceilings, more space to spread out, more benches, and circles on the floor for ease of social distancing.30 minute shows from start to finish. I recommend watching it twice for the full impact – and your money’s worth. They start on the hour and half hour, but if you come in mid-show, just watch it until you are ready to go.
- Allow about 90 minutes for your total stay. 1 hour for the show, 30 minutes for time in the lobby/restrooms (before) and gift shop (after).
- Restrooms are available in the entry lobby. They are clean and accessible. They are not accessible once you get inside the exhibit.
Cher’s Armchair Travel
“Lust for Life” a biographical novel about Vincent Van Gogh was written by Irving Stone and made into a movie staring Kirk Douglas and Van Gogh and Anthony Quinn as his friend Paul Gauguin. An Armchair Travel discussion blog is in the works and will be posted shortly.
Cher’s Q & A
This is a section I don’t typically include, but it covers questions I’ve been asked – and raised by media critics who have given unfortunate negative reviews.
- Is it COVID safe? Yes. The Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit is COVID-safe, with multiple precautions in place to ensure that people are able to socially-distance while enjoying the experience. Everyone (staff and attendees) all were required to wear masks at all times. Circles were created on the exhibition floor (second room) for social distancing. Hand sanitizer is easily available. (Their website states that at the Toronto installation, over 170,000 visitors saw the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit and not a single case of COVID-19 was traced back to it.)
- Is it Noisy? No. The music complements and adds a necessary pieces to the experience. I felt that the orchestral music was very restful and relaxing as well as exhilarating at other times. . No heavy metal, techno music that I was aware of! When I saw that earplugs were available upon request, I took out my hearing aids – but once inside, I quickly put them back in so as not to miss any of the nuances of the sound experience. My adult daughter thought it was perfect and also noticed that songs with words seemed to be sung in French! (I missed that – but then I was too engrossed in the visual!)
- Do I Stand? Sit? Since I am a “stander” by nature, and can spend hours walking/standing in museums, I may not be a good gauge. But I had no problem standing for the hour we were in the exhibit. In fact, a chair opened up and I sat down – for only a few seconds! I was frustrated that it was really a nuisance; I could not easily observe what was going on all around me. I quickly gave up the chair. However, there are ample benches on which to sit if needed. Many sat in the circles on the floor – or against the wall. I even some a young man laying on his back in a circle, fully enjoying and immersed in the “surround sound and sight” to the max! Cushions were available with the VIP and Premium tickets, but I thought they looked small, thin, and not worth the effort – or extra money. But if you need – or want – it, they are available.
- Will I feel unstable with all that movement going on around me? When one looks at the promotions for the exhibition, it appears as if one walks from space to space while the walls and floor whirl and swirl around you. Not so. You remain in one room and can remain in one spot the entire time if you want. Of course you can walk around as some do, but it is a choice. There are tall mirrors all around the room which add to the visual impact, but they can also be used as something to lean on if needed. If you think you might feel unstable, bring a friend with a good arm to hang on to! Some of the displays move onto the floor – but I found that it is easy enough to just stop in that spot until the floor stops moving!
- Will the visual movement give me a headache? I hope not. Unless you came in with a head-ache, you should not leave with one. On the contrary, the music and scenes made me relaxed and joyful as I recognized masterpiece after masterpiece morph and appear before my eyes. The movement from scene to scene was seamless and ongoing with a logical flow that kept our attention. There was no psychedelic movement and no flashing of lights. Standing at one end of the large, second room, the view around me never caused a strain to my neck from needing to look up. There was nothing on the ceiling to look up at.
- Was it worth the money? Emphatically: YES! I have traveled across the ocean, across a country, to see a special exhibit of a favorite artist–and this one is in my home town!
- Was it art? Yes! The immersion show is another way of appreciating Van Gogh’s art in a new and fresh way. If one wants to stop and study the nuances of Van Gogh’s brush strokes, his use of color and technique, then one should go to a museum. This is a whole new way of looking at his art. And it was fantastic.
- Where else is it showing in the USA? Check their website for dates – but it is in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, Charlotte (NC), Dallas, Phoenix, Cleveland (OH), Las Vegas, Pittsburgh (PA), Denver, Orlando, Houston (TX), Detroit, Columbus (OH), Nashville, San Antonio and Kansas City (MO).
Sociable Cider Werks
One of the fun parts of a Travel Date, at home or away-from-home, is experiencing the local culture with culinary delights!
It is also fun to be able to sit down with a cold – or warm – drink and debrief from an experience such as the Van Gogh Immersion!
Just a few feet from our parking spot was Social Cider Werks, a local brewing company with a food truck. Perfect finale to a grand day.
“Sociable Cider Werks brews freshly-pressed apples with a variety of fruits, grains, hops, & spices. The result is a lineup of innovative libations that are best when shared with a friend.”
“Really, the whole story of Sociable is about sharing a pint with a friend. Long-time compatriots and garage brewing buddies Jim & Wade couldn’t find the kind of dry, bubbly ciders they wanted to drink. So in 2013 they struck out on their own. The rest, as they say, is history.” (sociablecider.com)
There are also great tasting non-alcoholic options.
Sammy’s Avenue Eatery food truck, local owner and operator, is available for guests’ culinary desires.