November 12th, 2021
Salt Lake City has been host to several “experience” museums, including themes on Breakfast and Candy. These are joyful, immersive experiences that mostly serve as photography backdrops for social media posts. And kids love them. When I saw that the Beyond Van Gogh experience was coming, I knew I had to get tickets to take my own two little girls — and was hoping for more than just a good photo opp!
Created by French-Canadian creative director Mathieu St-Arnaud and his team at Montreal’s Normal Studio, Beyond Van Gogh is an immersive experience showcasing over 300 of the artist’s works. I have to say the New York version called Immersive Van Gogh looks much more developed and interesting, but being in Salt Lake we have few opportunities like this and overall we enjoyed it.
I would not want to go at night, alone, as I would not feel safe in the neighborhood in which it’s based. Guests are encouraged to use the restroom before they arrive (outside, “Royal Restrooms”) and then show their tickets for entry. Masks are not required, but are worn by the staff — and I would say about half of the guests wore masks. It was not crowded and we were allowed to take as much time as we wished.
Beyond Van Gogh is an immersive experience showcasing over 300 of the artist’s works
The first part of the exhibition is a series of large frames that you wind through, much life a TSA line at the airport. Part of Van Gogh’s life story is displayed on readable panels. Want to know why we even know who Van Gogh is? Learn about the woman responsible for his career’s trajectory in this New York Times article “The Woman Who Made Van Gogh.”
The panels are filled with biographical facts and interesting notes on Van Gogh’s life — but it’s more than most adults want to stand and read, and absolutely more than any children want to (or can). There is also a small room with motion-sensor lights that flow on the walls and the floors nearby that become the dancing room for us. We passed through this room quickly and went into the second, larger room with the projections of paintings.
I knew I had to get tickets to take my own two little girls — and was hoping for more than just a good photo opp!
The main show is a large, gymnasium-sized room with projections on a 35 minute loop. The moving images are digitized versions of Van Gogh’s best known works: floral and still life, portraits, wheat fields, and of course the starry nights. A soundtrack and spoken words accompany the projections, with quotes (often in French) on the walls, overlaying the paintings. The works “move” or transition over the walls, occasionally in an unsettling dripping motion (think: bad screensaver transitions) and other times in a (much better!) windy, floating movement. Our favorite transition was when cherry blossom paintings began to lose their blossoms, as they floated over the walls as if with a gust of wind. When this motion began I overheard a woman say, “now this makes it all worth it.”
My children (five and seven — they are on the younger side for this exhibit) thought that there was another viewing room, so after about ten minutes they wandered to the next room. This room turned out to be the exit — thorough the gift shop! We asked the staff how long the loop was, to which she said, “Most people think there is another room, but no. Go on back in, it’s a 35 minute loop.” We gave it a go and the girls settled in to watching the rest of the show.
We enjoyed the afternoon, but if families are on a budget I would recommend going to the UMFA or the National History Museum over this exhibit. And if you are in New York, you should definitely try to see the original there. More on the exhibit, and links, below.
About Beyond Van Gogh
In an imaginative and immersive presentation crafted for our unique times by world renowned audiovisual designers, Beyond Van Gogh uses cutting-edge projection technology to create an engaging journey into the world of Van Gogh. Using his dreams, his thoughts, and his words to drive the experience as a narrative, we move along projection swathed walls wrapped in light, color, and shapes that swirl, dance and refocus into flowers, cafes and landscapes. Masterpieces, now freed from frames, come alive, appear and disappear, flow across multi-surfaces, the minutia of details titillating our heightened senses. Through his own words set to a symphonic score, we may come to a new appreciation of this tortured artist’s stunning work.
Want to visit in your own town?
Here is a list of cities to which Beyond Van Gogh is coming soon…