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Imagine Van Gogh | © lililillilil, courtesy of Imagine Van Gogh
Imagine Van Gogh | © lililillilil, courtesy of Imagine Van Gogh
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Van Gogh Comes to Life at This Immersive Multi-Sensory Exhibition

Picture of Jade Cuttle
Updated: 25 August 2017
A massive, immersive audiovisual exhibition in Paris submerges the spectator into Vincent Van Gogh‘s world. With 2000 square meters (over 21,500 square feet) of projections, featuring 900 paintings, personal letters and photos, visitors can experience Van Gogh’s work on a scale like never before.

La Grande Villette’s exhibition Imagine Van Gogh, curated by Annabelle Mauger and Julien Baron, marks a modern rediscovery of the world’s most loved post-impressionist artist Vincent Van Gogh (1853–1890). Audiovisual projections of rushing water and poppies wobbling in the wind are squeezed in alongside blown-up shots of their still-life counterparts, allowing the works to really take on a new dimension.

Imagine Van Gogh
Imagine Van Gogh | © lililillilil, courtesy of Imagine Van Gogh

Thanks to cutting-edge technological equipment, close-ups and panning bring the exhibition to life, making it seem as though at any moment the waves might spill beyond the boundaries of the screen to flood the gallery floor. When these panning movements are applied on such a large projector to Van Gogh’s paintings of ships it gives the impression that they are truly sailing out to sea, and the spectator is interactively dragged by the drift in turn.

Les bateaux de pêcheurs sur la plage, Vincent Van Gogh (1889)
Les bateaux de pêcheurs sur la plage, Vincent Van Gogh (1889) | WikiCommons

There are no dull moments, as suddenly the room is overgrown with blue branches. In other rooms it’s raining paint, showering stars, or spectators are swallowed by sky. The increased size of the paintings allows viewers to appreciate the intricate design of individual brushstrokes like never before.

Imagine Van Gogh
Imagine Van Gogh | © lililillilil

The paint still looks wet, like dew on some of his flowers, and everything seems to be alive—it’s only as you observe up close that you notice the pixels. Portraits like that of Doctor Gachet are fragmented across several projectors, allowing an appreciation of each feature; you can even see the folds of his skin. The fragmentation makes it feels like a broken mirror, and the spectator is invited to explore each detail.

Le Portrait du Docteur Gachet, Vincent Van Gogh (1890)
Le Portrait du Docteur Gachet, Vincent Van Gogh (1890) | WikiCommons

The set-up is perfect, inviting you to weave yourself right into the heart of his universe, and get lost in the charm. The spectators are “integrated into the image,” as the curators say, a total immersion that is reinforced by the synchronized accompaniment of a musical score.

Imagine Van Gogh
Imagine Van Gogh | © lililillilil

It’s like walking into a film, with music by Mozart, Bach, Erik Satie, Saint-Saëns, and Delibes. The music swings effortlessly between soaring violins that strive to create a sinister tension, and tinkling piano, hinting at his mercurial temper, mental illness and eventual suicide. The effect is dramatic, marked by a series of self-portraits that play out with tremendous force.

Imagine Van Gogh
Imagine Van Gogh | © lililillilil

The curators’ decision to bring immersive interactivity to the foreground not only shows there are still new ways to delve into and discover familiar works of art, but also that you can fall in love with artists like Van Gogh over and over again.

Imagine Van Gogh
Imagine Van Gogh | © lililillilil

Imagine Van Gogh runs at the Grande Halle De La Villette until September 10, 2017. Tickets are €14.90 ($17.60) for adults and €12.90 ($15.20) for children.

Grande Halle De La Villette, 211 Avenue Jean Jaurès, Paris, France, +33 1 40 03 75 75