A Deep and Personal look at the Van Gogh Exhibit in NYC

Hunter Frederick

July 20, 2021

Last Tuesday, I took a friend to see the Immersive Van Gogh experience that had popped up at Pier 36 in the Lower East Side. It was my birthday gift to them, as they had expressed a desire to go, but only in a tentative way — the same way you might tweet, “Hmm roundtrip flights to Miami only like $200 rn… *thinking emoji*”, knowing damn well you not buying those tickets. Despite this, I acted as an enabler, we picked a date and time, and made sure to take the required amount of Instagram photos.

A little about the exhibit before we really dive in (and we will be diving in). The idea was conceived by Massimiliano Siccardi and soundtracked by Luca Longobardi, who both have previous experience with immersive art. Three hundred thousand cubic feet of projectors and plastic mirrors line the event space, which consists of three areas; two smaller rooms that flow into the largest room. The largest room sort of becomes the de facto destination of the exhibit; it has folding chairs as well as a construct in the center of the room, providing a variety of perspectives to enjoy the show from. Personally, I recommend doing both a balcony and a floor level viewing.

The balcony viewing shows you the scale of the project, in terms of the projection along all four walls and the floor, and also allows you to people-watch if that’s your thing. On the other hand, a floor level viewing allows you to be, well, immersed in the experience — the light dancing across your body as the sights and sounds change with every artwork featured, transporting you from a bedroom to the countryside and again into a café lining the city street. I think the same show was playing in the first two smaller rooms, which feature geometric sculptures made from mirrored plastic. I didn’t get to experience the show from there, but if I did, I think I would have tried to sit on the floor against a wall, or lie flat on the ground and look up.

In contrast to what I am about to do, let me speak very clearly, and say that I recommend the experience. Even if you consider yourself indifferent on the subject of art and the great painters, it’s a fun thing to do and a wonderful experience to share with friends. The creators did a fantastic job bringing Van Gogh’s works to life through animation and music. However, the only downside would be the cost, which is rather steep at around $60 a person. Generally, everything is expensive though, from the parking cost (which I experienced due to my own poor planning) to the cost of almost all the souvenirs. I managed to get a neat poster for $8, but my friend and I made a game of guessing the price of the standard “event” T-shirt, and they were dead on with a guess of $35. Honorable mention goes to the $295 long sleeve, light denim, not-quite-a-jacket, thing that I think was done in collaboration with another artist. I’m sure it’s got it’s merit but perhaps I am simply too broke to understand.

Snarky gift shop comments aside, I remember standing on the balcony in the final room of the exhibit, wondering to myself how I would even begin to review what I was witnessing. Truthfully, I often feel what I will call “hesitation” whenever I set out to review something, in large part because I trick myself into thinking that any good review must determine whether something is good or bad, in a mostly definitive sense. Luckily, after thinking about this for more than 10 panicky minutes, I realized that wasn’t true. I prefer to go about reviews by first stating some facts (mostly because of a weird habit/guilt picked up from various journalistic and periodical experiences). Then, I go about explaining and detailing my views and experiences with whatever the subject is, maybe toss in some analysis, and leave people to draw their own conclusions.

To that end, I want to really lean into it this time, if only because I am reviewing art. Anyone that’s read anything I have written knows I can be long-winded and overuse flowery language, like a teenager writing to impress a high school English teacher that I have a crush on. I am not necessarily ashamed of this, but a lot of the fluff never makes it to print thanks to the time-tested practice of reading what I write, plus a little good old-fashioned overthinking. But I can throw all that out the window here, again, because it’s art we are talking about. You see, during my aforementioned crisis of wondering how this review would come to fruition, I made some rules to give myself a foundation to build upon. Number one is that art will mean a lot of different things to a lot of people and number two is that different people will always have different opinions about what makes art good. Subsequently, I figured that good art should make you think, both inwards and outwards; it should transport your mind back to memories and forward to moments yet to come.

For example, I learned that I personally find unique enjoyment in things that border on the overwhelming; if I don’t get chills and tear up a bit, I don’t want it. This could be because I, like so many others, cannot quiet my mind easily or mentally sit still for too long. So when I have a lot to occupy my brain, like trying to watch all four walls of a room, and the floor, while also taking in music all at the same time, I finally know some semblance of (relative) peace.

I am, at last, out of my head; or at least on the outskirts of it. Maybe. I don’t know. But therein lies my point; the exhibit was able to do that for me, so it stands to reason it could do something powerful and thought provoking for you too.

To further demonstrate, I leave you with a list of things my mind wandered to during the two hour run-time, presented here in exhaustion and without context: