The Immersive Van Gogh experience

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Nicole Rodil Suarez

The 360-degree Immersive Van Gogh experience is now on exhibit until February 6.

Art has never truly interested me on more than a superficial level. To me, art consisted of pretty pictures which varied in color and design. As I grew up, I realized the amount of effort artists put into their works, and I started appreciating them more. Yet I was still not much of an art fan. It wasn’t until 8th grade I truly started to appreciate the beauty of art. The reason you may ask, well it is all thanks to my art teacher that year. 

When I went into that class I had expected it to be as boring as all the others, reading textbooks and being left to our own devices because “creativity is the key to art.” I was in for a pleasant surprise when the teacher announced that she wasn’t going to bother with such formalities or the “traditional” way of teaching because art wasn’t just another subject. It was an experience. 

Instead of using the textbook, Ms. Allison taught us from her experiences. She would take time to showcase the technique we would learn and then help us practice it to perfection. There was never pressure to do exactly like her but she also didn’t just leave us to do it alone. If we had a question she would try her best to answer it and show us how she would do it. From this, we learned to take what she learned over the years and make it our own type of art. 

My parents had heard of the Immersive Van Gogh Experience, on now on display through February 6 in Houston, so they decided to take my sister and I there for a family outing. I was looking forward to the exhibit because Van Gogh had been Ms. Allison’s favorite painter. I wanted to relive all those moments I had in that class when we were going over his works, and I couldn’t wait. 

Nicole Rodil Suarez

When you enter the building, you are immediately greeted by a wall, painted with a blue background and decorated with bright yellow three-D sunflowers as big as car tires. You catch sight of a 10-foot tall statue of Van Gogh’s face.

Photo by Nicole Rodil Suarez

As you enter a short hallway into another room, you are met with multiple pieces hanging from cords that recreate one of Van Gogh’s paintings when you stand in front of it. There are at least 20 different pieces all hanging, including water lilies, frogs against the backdrop of a pond. To my right a 3-D recreation of his room in Arles, France: his bed, the chair, the semi-open window, the rack with his hat, every little detail was perfectly recreated in this model. 

There was one more crafted three-D model along the other wall and on the last section of available space, there were screens showing more paintings accompanied by large panels of text that were also spread around the room. There was so much detail and thorough explanations of his life in Arles and in the mental institution, I was hooked. There was so much information so splendidly presented I was looking forward to the next panel of text rather than the actual paintings. One specific panel stated that he had created 3 different paintings of his room in Arles, one when he moved in, one when he painted in the asylum, and the last one for his mother and sister. Ms. Allison would sometimes take days to just read our letters and articles on Van Gogh, she would even theorize with the other students on the circumstances surrounding his death. 

Photo by Nicole Rodil Suarez

As I pushed past the curtains, into another room, I was met with bright lights. The four walls of the room were covered in projections of animated paintings and Zen-like music enveloped me. 

The majestic way in which the stars in Starry Night moved and the soft glow of the falling petals in Almond Branches offered another breathtaking moment. The low rumble of someone’s voice reading experts from the 700 letters Van Gogh had sent to his brother acted as an informative backdrop in this room. Walking through this exhibit, I felt like I was in Van Gogh’s mind like I was seeing what he had been seeing when he had painted those paintings; I could hear the thoughts he had poured out in all his letters.  

I had thought that that was the end, that we would exit that room and leave and that’s it. Instead, I walked into a room where there were kids and adults alike sitting and coloring with crayons, markers, and colored pencils on coloring pages of some of Van Gogh’s paintings. It was a little funny watching adults scribble away on those papers recreating his famous works. It was even funnier seeing the kids with their scratchy and messy coloring compared to the originals, I had seen so ingrained in my head after spending such a long time looking at them.

There was a virtual option where you would sit on one of the many spinning chairs, put on VR goggles, and watch as you walked through Arles and take in the recreated town where we see highlights of some of his paintings that he made there. It made me a little dizzy but the experience had been fun so it was worth it.

We spent a total of 75 minutes there, so you can just imagine how annoyed my sister was, but I was still smiling and mesmerized by what I had just experienced. I walked away with a face-splitting grin, messy drawings (which were later destroyed by my very excited dog while welcoming us home), and small trinkets to remember the whole experience with.