Unless you’ve been living under a rock, chances are good you’ve seen a “Starry Night” reproduction somewhere. Vincent Van Gogh, the Dutch post-Impressionist, is everywhere. He’s the star of five — FIVE! — competing immersive exhibitions currently traveling the United States. Exhibition Hub, the company behind the show that opened in Seattle Oct. 20, is running Van Gogh shows simultaneously in nine other U.S. cities (including New York, Boston, Miami and Houston).
It’s art for the masses, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. Any means to get people excited about art is a good thing. This art snob spent nearly two hours inside, and enjoyed the show more than expected.
Seattle’s Van Gogh show was plagued with problems before it even opened, and earned a warning from the Better Business Bureau. Tickets had been on sale since spring promoting a “secret location” to be announced, but the scheduled September opening date came and went without a peep, frustrating many ticket holders.
Many delays and complaints to the BBB and Washington State Attorney General’s Office later, “Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience” is finally open in Seattle.
“It just took us a bit longer to find the right venue and get it open,” said Exhibition Hub’s executive producer, John Zaller. “We’re thrilled to be here and bring arts and culture to Sodo.”
“Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience” is billed as a 360-degree digital art experience. The crown jewel of this exhibit is an 8,000-square-foot room in the center of the space with 2-story projections. A video runs on a 35-minute loop, splicing and dicing elements of more than 300 of Van Gogh’s drawings, sketches and paintings, set to a custom soundtrack. You can stand in the center of the room and surround yourself on all four sides with this dynamic montage projected floor to ceiling.
In the surrounding galleries, you’ll see life-size canvas reproductions of Van Gogh’s paintings. (The actual “Starry Night”? It’s surprisingly small, just 2½ by 3 feet.) There is also a 9-foot bust of the artist, made of sculpted foam, on which his self portraits are projected. In another video installation, you’ll see a sculpted vase with various flower arrangements projected on it. Van Gogh painted the same vase over and over again — this guy was low on funds.
In the art studio, visitors can create their own Van Gogh-inspired art. You can pick a Van Gogh coloring sheet, or start from scratch on a blank sheet of paper. Take a picture of your masterpiece and it’ll get projected on the wall.
The show ends with an optional VR experience, which is an extra $5 unless you bought VIP tickets. (The headsets get wiped down between users.) I sat down in the swivel seat for a 10-minute trip, beginning in Van Gogh’s famous bedroom in Arles, then tromping through the French countryside, seeing what inspired his famous paintings. It’s worth the $5, but I was slightly nauseous at the end. VR is not for small children or people who tend to get seasick. Definitely don’t try to stand up.
The show is housed in a 44,000-square-foot warehouse in Sodo, one block south of T-Mobile Park. I thought I’d taken a wrong turn until I saw the exterior of the building, painted a brilliant blue so it stands out. Exhibition Hub finalized the lease in September and invested close to $2 million to transform this bare-bones warehouse. Its first Van Gogh show opened in 2018 in a cathedral in Italy.
If you’re thinking of going, here’s how to do it: Go on a weekday morning, when it won’t be crowded and tickets are cheaper. The show is sticking around for six months or so, so wait until the initial hubbub dies down. Timed ticketing helps with crowd control, but that’s still 100 to 125 people who can enter the exhibit every half-hour.
This show isn’t a substitute for going to see the real deals in person, if you’re up for hopping on a flight to the Museum of Modern Art in New York or the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. The paintings in real life are a bit anticlimactic because they’re so small. Here, they’re magnified, moving, swirling, a supersized sensory experience, more in line with our modern attention spans.
Why the sudden deluge of Van Gogh shows? Zaller cited the artist’s use of color and the energy of his brush strokes, lending the paintings to translate well into digital projected form. It doesn’t hurt, either, that Van Gogh’s works are all in the public domain so there are no copyrights to wrangle.
Ironically, Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime. He was destitute. He would probably have loved this show, and loved to get a cut of it.
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the correct name of the production company.