The Van Gogh Cincinnati: The Immersive Experience promises to be just that, immersive.
From the moment you enter the room that is inside renovated former TJ Maxx on Fourth StreetDowntown, encounter paintings, quotes and sketches by Vincent van Gogh, the artist title who painted some of the world’s most famous works of art.
Van Gogh was born in the Netherlands but spent much of his life in France. Relatively unknown during his lifetime, van Gogh achieved posthumous fame for having completed around 2,000 works of art, including over 900 paintings.
Sure, Cincinnati is already home to a Van Gogh painting of its own. “Undergrowth with two figures”, Completed in 1890, is in the Cincinnati Art Museum. But the immersive experiencewhich opened in Cincinnati in June and will run through at least September, according to its website, aims to fully immerse visitors in van Gogh’s life and artwork through a variety of mediums.
The experience is divided into four parts: the immersive 360-degree space, virtual reality, an art and life area and a studio.
If you wanted to experience the exhibition but are not ready ($34.90-44.90 for adults and $19.90-22.90 for 4-12 year olds), we fought our way through the encounter. Here’s what we found.
Van Gogh in Cincinnati:Immersive Van Gogh exhibit is open and ready to wow “everyone in Cincinnati.”
Part One: Van Gogh’s Art and Life
It was pretty crowded on the weekday morning we checked out the immersive experience. While there weren’t long lines or waits to get in, there were enough people to fill the various spaces throughout the exhibit.
Just past the Fourth Street entrance, subtly adorned with a “Starry Night” plaque, and through the small entrance where tickets are scanned, is a winding hallway where the experience begins.
It takes you through van Gogh’s personal life and career, starting with a giant, colorful bust of the artist onto which moving images are projected, and then takes you to a timeline of his life.
Quotes from his life (many taken from his letters to his younger brother Theo) played throughout the experience, showing his thoughts on colour, life, sadness and his art.
Prints of van Gogh’s work hung on the walls, including his series of sunflowers, various self-portraits and of course the famous Starry Night. From there, this section of the museum offers a full-size 3D rendering of the painting “Bedroom in Arles”.
Part Two: The 360 Degree Immersive Space (or What You Wanted to See)
As if the first part of the exhibition hadn’t already completely transformed from its TJ Maxx roots, a flight of stairs and into the huge projection of van Gogh’s work was enough to take you out of the former department store mindset.
The two-story space, filled with chairs, rugs and raised seating for visitors, literally brought van Gogh’s paintings to life. The animation made birds fly, clouds roll by, plants sway in the wind and boats rock on the water.
Visitors were allowed to sit, stand, lie or move inside. Whatever it took to bring the experience to life.
The works of art flowed from one to the other through music and animation, reflected in the approximately 30-45 minute encounter on the four walls and on the carpet below. And all the while, a voice-over played more quotes from van Gogh, presenting a journey through his life, his development as an artist, his struggles with mental health, and finally his untimely death.
This is the most well-known part of the exhibition, the part you will likely see if friends who have visited the exhibition have posted on social media. “Have you ever dreamed of entering a painting?” Advertising lures and you step into a painting, which you actually do.
The video, which plays continuously, ends with a real image of what van Gogh looked like: the a confirmed photo from him, an unbiased view of the artist who often painted himself.
Part Three: The Studio
After the immersive space, visitors can be inspired by van Gogh’s art and paint their own versions of some of his works in the adjoining studio.
After coloring you can scan the finished work to show it on a large projection screen and you can choose to keep your art for yourself or to hang it up in the room.
Part Four: Virtual Reality
If you get sick, hold onto your hat. The last part of the immersive experience is optional, free for VIP members and an additional $5 for other participants.
It’s an approximately 11-minute virtual reality experience (yes, complete with a headset) that takes participants through van Gogh’s life in Arles and Saint-Remy de Provence, France, where he was reportedly in high spirits and some painted his best-known works.
You begin virtual reality in this famous “Bedroom in Arles”, traveling outside through the Arles wheat fields, through the forests, through the town of Saint-Remy de Provence before ending at the waterfront, stopping to admire them along the way to examine many of the paintings completed there.
On the plus side, it’s virtual reality, so while wearing the headset, you can look up, down, anywhere, and see the south of France through Van Gogh’s eyes. But the negative is that it’s also virtual reality, so it’s a little confusing if you’ve never done it before.
The experience ends there, which of course leads straight into a Van Gogh-themed gift shop.
So is Van Gogh Cincinnati: The Immersive Experience worth a visit?
It can very much depend on how big your Van Gogh fan is, but watching some of the world’s most famous paintings come to life all around you is a fascinating experience.