The old Scottish Rite Temple on Carondelet Street was as busy as an ant mound on Monday afternoon, as a squad of painters, carpenters, and digital technicians scrambled to install Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience, a high-tech interpretation of the renowned Dutch artists beloved paintings. The avant-garde art experience opens Friday, April 8.
With wrap-around video projections that put the post-impressionist master’s paintings in motion, a virtual reality tour of the artist’s stomping grounds in the south of France, several clever selfie-opportunities, and a hands-on art-making activity, this is an art exhibit that Vincent – as he humbly signed his canvases – couldn’t have imagined.
The show, which includes no actual paintings, drawings, or artifacts, is an example of a new-fashioned art experience that is a current international phenomenon. Not everyone approves of inviting an iconic 19th century analog artist into the metaverse. But for most of us, seeing actual Van Goghs isn’t especially easy – the New Orleans Museum of Art, for instance, doesn’t have one.
So who was Van Gogh, anyway? And why would we pay $32 or more to enter his world? After all, in many ways, it’s world we’d rather avoid.
Van Gogh was intermittently depressed, deeply alcoholic, sometimes delusional, and ultimately suicidal. He shot himself in 1890. He’s the artist who infamously cut his own ear off (part of his ear, anyway) in a self-destructive fit. He’s the pathetic painter who never came close to making a living from canvases that these days sell for millions — $75 million in one case. As doomed artists go, he set the bar high.
In a backwards way, all that of that adds to his eternal allure, of course. But it’s not the real reason we love him. Despite his misery, Vincent gives us joy. He was among the first artists to spice his paintings with emotion. In his hands, a night sky swirled with sublime psychological turmoil, sunflowers seemed to writhe with unrequited longing, and the inside of a lonely tavern radiated a craving for friendship and acceptance.
To this day, Van Gogh reaches us. Nobody ever blended the beauty of the natural world with the equally natural simmering anxiety of the human condition better. Cue up Don McLeans’ melancholy “Starry, Starry Night.”
The folks behind the Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience are trying to amplify the Vincent effect, to let us swim in it. And the neoclassical Scottish Rite Temple is the perfect place to take the plunge.
The building was first dedicated as a Methodist church in 1853, the year Van Gogh was born. It became a Masonic hall in 1905 and remained such until seven years ago. Though the inside of the building has been converted into an ultra-modern exhibition space, the Greek columns outside and the Masonic symbols the peek out here and there in the interior, lend the site a sort of solemn historical tone, befitting the great art.
None of the digital magic was yet working on Monday, but the projected mapping grid that splashed across the entire interior of the hall’s former meeting room was fascinating in itself. The bright white grid touched everything from ceiling to floor. It was all very Tron. Exhibit manager Ryan Haines, who led Monday’s preview tour, said that visitors will be bathed in a 35-minute video loop in the space, but they can stay as long as they’d like.
The exhibition is located at at 621 Carondelet Street. Admission starts at $32.20 for adults and $19.10 for children. Timed tickets to the attraction went on sale months ago, and at this writing, April 22 seems to be the first available slot. No closing date for the attraction as been announced, but tickets are apparently on sale through June.
Check back for a review after the exhibit opens.