Imagine van Gogh commemorates life of painter through thrilling experience

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The immersive exhibit of starry night that shows some folks sitting in space. Gillian Massie

Trust me, the three-hour drive is worth it.

A brilliant mind whose recognition came after his time – from the outskirts of Paris to Provence, indulging in the wonderful mind of van Gogh will not disappoint.

The Imagine van Gogh Experience brings new life to the work of Vincent van Gogh. Reflecting the joys of life and the miseries of humanity, the immersive exhibit experience puts a spotlight on van Gogh’s genius artistic talent. The multimedia experience uses a collaboration of sound and artwork, taking you through the story of van Gogh’s life. With paintings magnified on the walls and floor, you can truly appreciate the beauty of his post-impressionist paintings. The presentation’s use of dissolving and moving images highlight beautiful landscapes from the prairies of France to abstract paint splotch techniques. Walking through the Van Gogh exhibit is like you have been shrunk to a miniature version of yourself and are waltzing across France.

Walking into the van Gogh Experience completely exceeded my expectations. I was thrilled to see Saskatchewan get different artistic experiences and I was fully prepared to have an enjoyable, but likely mediocre, afternoon. As soon as I entered the building, I immediately knew that this was not going to be like any other art exhibit.

The first room is dedicated to the life and commemoration of van Gogh. Blue and red tiles hung from the ceiling, each lit by a spotlight. It takes you through van Gogh’s struggles with mental health, complications with love, and conversations with his brother, Theo. The insight into van Gogh’s personal life bears witness to why he delighted in painting. The emotional meaning conveyed in his painting was an outlet to help him cope with the inner turmoil he was experiencing while in and out of care.

After the final slide, you are ushered into the immersive experience room. Before entering the exhibition space, I already had chills listening to the classical soundtrack booming while I read about the trials and tribulations creators had building the experience.

The immersive room was nothing less than spectacular. Upon entry, I was immediately overwhelmed with emotion, standing in Van Gogh’s Sower with Setting Sun (1888). The presentation slowly began fading in the sun replicating daybreak. The foreground began to fade and travel across the floor and underneath my feet. On the other side of the room, I could see a farmer walking across the field. I had a full 360-degree view of the entire painting that slowly shifted, showcasing each brushstroke, giving a personal look at the painting.

As I stood with my mouth gaping like a fish out of water, I looked around at the other visitors who were in awe of the experience like I was. Some were walking around the room, some were standing, and some were just sitting on the floor. No matter what anyone was doing, there was no fear of blocking anyone’s view or casting an odd shadow. The experience is so brilliantly designed through precision projectors and hard drives that you are never in fear of blocking someone’s vision.

Many of van Gogh’s paintings were done during the last two years of his life, and the curators did such an excellent job of taking you through a variety of different paintings. Seascapes with sailboats challenging choppy waters, rural landscapes matched with haystacks in the French countryside told the story of farmers having a snooze on their break, still-life paintings of various flowers emphasized the beauty of each bulb in the bouquet. Self-portraits of van Gogh and other figures ordained the walls with the eyes leaping off the canvas and staring straight at you.

The presentation did a superb job of fluctuating between van Gogh’s state of melancholy to creative exuberance. Narrated by music from Bach, Mozart, Saint-Saens, and many more; the soundtrack provides guests with an experience that amplifies the emotional impact of the moving images all around the room.

One of the most fascinating assets to the exhibition was the floor. It was expertly crafted with stripped down foregrounds or backgrounds from van Gogh’s paintings, but it truly made you feel like you were walking through one of his paintings. After exiting the exhibit, I spoke with one of the volunteers who explained to me that during the seascape portion she was overwhelmed with the floor graphics because they looked so real. The presence of the waves on the floor was so extreme that she had attempted to jump over the wave while it was coming at her. During The Starry Night (1889) I stood directly on top of one of the golden stars before it faded away. You could see each and every detail, which was done with such care.

A painting of van Gogh’s projected in the immersive experience room that it took me a minute to realize were cherry blossoms, not some diagram of veins and cells in a body.

Some of van Gogh’s art travelled outside of France such as “Japonism,” which is the focus of the Japanese aesthetic in Western art. van Gogh found beauty in a place that he had only observed from photos, and recreated pictures of cherry blossoms growing on trees – some ordained with Japanese calligraphy and lanterns. It’s truly a magical moment that transports you from the fields of France to a grove of trees in Japan.

The experience was accompanied by fantastic volunteers who were determined to make sure that guests had the best experience possible. I was encouraged to take my time to enjoy the exhibit and stay for multiple rounds of the presentation – and you did not have to tell me twice. Vincent van Gogh’s incredible artistic talent is commemorated within the Imagine Experience and it’s definitely something that needs to go on the list of things that you do before you die. However, if you miss the van Gogh exhibit, there are also forthcoming immersive experiences for Picasso and Monet. Because of the overwhelming success of the van Gogh Experience in Saskatoon, we could be seeing another immersive experience hit the province sometime soon.

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