‘Immersive Van Gogh’ is a visually stunning, high-tech art experience
Loop North News

Chicago Traveler

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Now open at the Germania Club Building in Old Town, the exhibit interprets iconic works by the legendary post-Impressionist painter using cutting-edge digital technology.

22-Feb-21 – As images of happy sunflowers erupt onto every wall and even the floor, you feel like you have stepped inside a Vincent Van Gogh painting. In a big way, you have.

Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit is an innovative video art installation that interprets iconic works by the legendary post-Impressionist painter using cutting-edge digital technology. It’s a brilliant injection into Chicago’s cultural scene, which has been devastated by a year of global pandemic and almost constant lockdown. The exhibit, which is the United States premiere of the Toronto blockbuster, opened this month at Lighthouse ArtSpace in the newly renovated Germania Club Building.

What you won’t see at the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit are static museum-style rows of paintings. Instead, you are surrounded 360 degrees with animation set to music and projected 30 feet high. Van Gogh’s paintings and drawings, or elements thereof, are at various times deconstructed, rearranged, merged, elongated, or repeated. Black and white sketches turn into color. Almond blossoms flutter against an imaginary breeze. Flora sprouts, suns set, doors slide open, and Bible pages flip.

Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit

The 33-minute program is divided into scenes loosely based on the artist’s major inspirations, obsessions, and life events. It is projected simultaneously in two ballroom-size galleries and two smaller ones.

Wander through them all for different viewpoints and sensations. Peer down from the balcony to take in the enormity of it all. In some areas, mirrored kiosks further amplify the visual effects.

Born in the Netherlands in 1853, Van Gogh was largely unrecognized during his short lifetime but today is regarded as one of the world’s greatest artists. He produced a large body of work – more than 2,000 paintings and drawings – but sold little of it. He struggled with mental illness and died by suicide at age 37.

Many of the works represented in the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit are widely known, such as The Potato Eaters (1885), Sunflowers (1888), and The Bedroom (1889) (right).

Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit

Others are less so, like Head of a Skeleton with a Burning Cigarette (1886) and Three Cicadas (1889). The cicadas play a starring role in the opening scene, perhaps symbolic of Van Gogh’s lifelong inner struggles.

Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit

One revealing scene, From Earth to Colour, plays on Van Gogh’s iris paintings toward the end of his life. At the start, blank walls fill with slim pointy turquoise leaves against a peridot background.

Delicate purple irises unfurl. A spunky white iris appears. Then the scene zooms into a bold, almost formidable montage of deep cobalt blooms entangled with a few isolated white ones.

The climax, a scene titled Meditating on the Landscape, is even more dramatic. You know what’s coming because you haven’t seen it yet. It’s got to be here somewhere, right? Yes, but not in the way you are accustomed to viewing those starry skies.

First, the gallery walls are darkened before turning to midnight blue. Spiky stars slowly pop into existence along with swirls and crescent moon and fields and cypress trees and river and watery reflections.

As you watch, The Starry Night (1889) merges into Starry Night Over the Rhone (1888), two very different moods from a complicated artist. The images fade, leaving a backdrop of dim stars for a sequence of self-portraits.

Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit

Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit was conceived and designed by film producer Massimiliano Siccardi with soundtrack by composer and pianist Luca Longobardi, both pioneers of immersive digital art experiences in France. The soundtrack includes Longobardi’s own works as well as that of musical artists as diverse as Thom York of the English rock band Radiohead and the late French chanteuse Edith Piaf.

Lighthouse ArtSpace Chicago at 108 West Germania Place in Old Town is a new event venue dedicated to immersive art presentations that bridge entertainment and culture. Its distinctive home, the Germania Club Building, was designed in 1888 by the prominent architectural firm of Addison & Fiedler. Originally a German social club, it is a Chicago Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Enhanced health and safety measures are being observed for all visitors and staff at the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit. Among them are limited capacity, temperature checks, contactless hand sanitizer stations, plexiglass barriers at payment locations, and contact tracing. Face coverings are required for visitors and staff. If you wish to linger, claim a socially-distanced circle marked on the floor.

Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit is scheduled to run through September 6. Admission prices start at $39.99 for an adult basic timed-entry ticket. Untimed and flexible options are available. Tickets also are on sale for the Los Angeles and San Francisco exhibits.

 More information and tickets: Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit Chicago

Photos by Pamela Dittmer McKuen.

By Pamela Dittmer McKuen | Loop North News | pmckuen@gmail.com

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