“Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience” is a dazzling, dreamy, high-tech presentation of the life and work of the beloved post-impressionist painter. The attraction, which has appeared in other cities since 2017, opened Friday (April 8) at the former Scottish Rite Temple on Carondelet Street in New Orleans, where, organizers say, it will continue at least through mid-June.
Though Vincent Van Gogh died 132 years ago, the exhibit, which combines video mapping technology, virtual reality goggles, and selfie opportunities, is as contemporary as cryptocurrency. Welcome to the future: This is an art show that includes no actual works of art.
Nonetheless, visitors could easily find themselves gasping with delight as they enter the wrap-around video gallery in which two-story projections of Van Gogh’s landscapes come to life. Crows caw as they flit across the autumn sky, hay wagons rumble in the distance, lights come to life in the windows of distant houses at dusk, a sailboat slips by on a dark river, etc.
Metairie resident Betsy Miranda, 71, said she loved the enveloping digital environment. “I’m just so glad I live in this time, the technology is so exciting,” she said. Miranda said she especially enjoyed experiencing the ceiling-to-floor animation “with other people.”
Indeed, the casual atmosphere of the projection room, where visitors lounge wherever they’d like, lends the grand-scale experience a certain intimacy. Reclining in a canvas-backed chair, watching the 30-minute spectacle blossom around you, is both visually exhilarating and deeply relaxing.
A post-impressionist rock star
Ironically, Van Gogh’s paintings are eternally comforting, despite the fact that the artist’s own mental state may have been tortured.
The location of the attraction couldn’t be more perfect. The neoclassical building where it is installed was dedicated in 1853, the year Van Gogh was born. And it was originally a church, before it became a masonic hall, just like Van Gogh originally set out to be a preacher before he became a painter.
Vincent, as he humbly signed his paintings, suffered from depression, debilitating alcoholism and occasional delusions. He’s the artist who infamously cut off part of his own ear in a fit of self-destruction. In ways, he was like the classic doomed rock star, except he never achieved fame or wealth before he took his own life at age 37.
Take a tour without taking a step
The cost of admission to “Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience” is $32.20 to $35.40 for adults and $19.10 to $24.50 for kids four to twelve. For an extra seven bucks visitors can take a virtual tour of Arles, the town in the south of France where Vincent did his best work.
The animation in Vincent’s metaverse may be a touch clumsy, but it’s completely charming. Seated in a row of swiveling stools in a darkened room, visitors imagine they are strolling past the peasants that Van Gogh lovingly depicted sleeping near a haystack, and the lonely café where he drank, and the site of his masterpiece “Starry Night,” where he imposed his emotional turmoil on the darkness of the sky.
Emotional turmoil underlies everything in the exhibit. The cleverest example of that subtheme is the 8-foot-tall bust of Van Gogh that is splashed with a mercurial montage of the master’s signature images – flowers, stars, cypress trees and such. It’s a hypnotic display that illustrates the artist’s imagination at work. It’s also a perfect spot to snap a smart phone self-portrait. Go ahead — Van Gogh would have certainly approved. The only thing he painted more often than sunflowers was himself.
The old Scottish Rite Temple is at 621 Carondelet St. The attraction is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Mon, Wed, Thurs and Fri; and from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sat and Sun. Closed Tuesday. Timed tickets are available at the Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience website.