Ol’ Vincent — he’s having a cultural moment these days, isn’t he?
Of course, that “moment” actually stretches back decades. After da Vinci, van Gogh’s arguably the best known artist in the world. He’s certainly the most popular painter portrayed on film and TV: Kirk Douglas, Tim Roth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Lee J. Cobb, Willem Dafoe, even Dr. Who..
But at the moment, no other artist has dozens of splashy, digital light shows drawing paying crowds across the planet. North Texas has two of the most popular: the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit in downtown Dallas and Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience at Globe Life Park in Arlington.
So why are these things popping up everywhere? And why now?
- ‘Immersive’ events like these are basically animated movies projected on walls and floors. So think of them as high-tech, walk-through, touring shows.
And they’re touring shows with no actors. They’re concerts with no live musicians. They’re also held in big-ish venues with timed tickets. So the threat of COVID infection is reduced (though hardly eradicated — both shows require visitors to wear masks).
- They cost less to run than other touring shows. And they are easier to replicate all over the country.
The lack of actors, musicians and dancers means these shows are cheaper than a Broadway tour or a stadium rock show. The producers don’t even have to mess with copyright anymore. These shows are certainly expensive to set up initially: all the digital projectors, programmers, composers and animators, plus a suitable venue to upgrade.
But once that initial outlay is done, the overhead is much lower — even as the tickets can be pricey for shows that don’t run more than an hour (regular children’s tickets for the Exhibit are $29.99, for the Experience, they’re $19.90).
And right now — considering the reduced box office for Hollywood movies and the cancellations of concert tours — these light shows face relatively weak competition when it comes to family entertainment.
- Easy-access high art.
Most people probably know some of the basics about van Gogh: the anguished genius, the lack of sales, the mental illness, the mutilated ear, the gun. He’s undoubtedly the most famous artist-suicide in history.
And if you don’t know that much — actually, you don’t even need to know that much. The central displays in these shows aren’t biographical, they’re not curatorial. They’re more mythological, meant to evoke and dazzle, less to instruct. What’s here is a visual bath in the familiar sunflowers, the swirling stars and the ecstatic brushstrokes, in wall-sized paintings that repeatedly merge, flow, shimmer and dissolve.
The basic experience is about that immediate visual immersion – as long as you know that’s what you’re coming for and not looking for some profound understanding of the painter’s life. What’s here is designed for selfies and cellphone videos, so you can feel you’re inside a rapturous wheatfield or a somber café lit by a lamp that seems to explode.
Get a first peek at Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience in Arlington.