As immersive Van Gogh light experiences have opened all across the country this summer, our staff noticed a distinct tread: Our moms were contacting us about them. Whether it was the magic of Van Gogh in family lore or the magic of Facebook’s targeted marketing, the phenomenon was real. But should we actually recommend the experience to our moms? Did it hold up?
Last month, Seija Goldstein visited the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit in downtown New York—and so of course we wanted to share her review. Here it is.
Date of Visit: June 30, 2021
Travel to Location: I ventured to take the subway for the first time since early March 2020. It was not too crowded at midday, and almost everyone was wearing a mask. I took two trains, with a change at 34th Street station, from Upper East Side, then a longish walk in 90 Fahrenheit-plus heat to Pier 36. There were no taxis to take anywhere near the East Broadway subway stop. Use your Google Maps for walking directions; nobody I asked had any idea where the pier was.
Once I got to the pier, there was no waiting in line to get in, and I walked straight through to the third and the largest room. I could not find a seat in the largest open area and ended up in a side section.
The Show Itself: The show started almost immediately and I discovered that it runs for 30 minutes in a loop, with the next showing starting right away.
Images of Van Gogh’s art are projected onto the walls and, at times, on the floor. Some wall sections in the middle of the space were mirrored, so you could see the show everywhere. There were a few short benches, some chairs, and you could rent small cushions to sit on the floor.
I watched the show in the side section, on three smaller walls, and was not all that impressed. However, as I was leaving, the next show started and I found a seat in the largest open area with a huge wall, and decided to stay for a second run.
I’m happy I did, because the experience was so much better, more immersive. (Hint: If you go, sit in the back of the large third room, facing the huge wall on the right.)
Van Gogh’s pictures appeared massive all around you. To me, the most impressive images were his flowers and landscapes. I wished that some of them would have stayed up longer on the screens—by the time I got my phone out to take a picture, they were gone. Overall, the colors were stunning and you really got to see Van Gogh’s signature heavy brush strokes.
Unfortunately, the portraits worked less well. In order to show movement, some faces twisted and distorted. A series of self-portraits at the end of show first came up upside down and then turned around, which was just weird.
Another disappointment was Van Gogh’s bedroom, where the pieces of furniture moved and turned across the screen and never seemed to find their place.
The projections were accompanied by loud music. I recognized Edith Piaf and some beautiful cello music, but most of it was not very memorable. Perhaps there was a connection to the paintings that I did not get.
The Verdict: My premium flex peak ticket cost about $70, including all fees. Was it worth it? After the first show I’d have said no way, but after the second it became a closer call.
Tickets are timed and it did not feel overcrowded, so let’s call it COVID pricing: They need to make their profit with fewer visitors and are employing quite a few people. At the same time I got a little shot of culture after a long drought. A bit pricy for 30 minute show, but under the circumstances, who’s complaining!