The Van Gogh Cincinnati: The Immersive Experience promises to be just that, immersive.
From the moment you enter the space, located inside the renovated former TJ Maxx on Fourth Street Downtown, you encounter paintings, quotes and sketches by Vincent van Gogh, the titular artist who has painted some of the best known works of art in the world.
Born in the Netherlands but spending much of his life in France, van Gogh was relatively unknown during his lifetime but achieved posthumous fame, as he had produced around 2,000 works of art, including over 900 paintings .
Of course, Cincinnati is already home to its own van Gogh painting. “Undergrowth with Two Figures”, completed in 1890, resides in the Cincinnati Art Museum. But the immersive experience, which opened in Cincinnati in June and will continue through at least September, according to the website, aims to fully immerse visitors in van Gogh’s life and works through a variety of mediums.
The experience is divided into four parts: the immersive 360 degree room, virtual reality, an art and life section and a studio.
If you’ve wanted to experience the exhibit but aren’t ready to pay for it ($34.90-$44.90 for adults and $19.90-$22.90 for ages 4-12) , we went through the encounter ourselves. Here’s what we found.
Van Gogh in Cincinnati:Immersive van Gogh exhibit is open and ready to wow ‘everyone in Cincinnati’
Part One: The Art and Life of Van Gogh
It was pretty busy the morning of the week we went to check out the immersive experience. Although there were no long queues or waiting to enter, there were enough people to fill the various spaces throughout the exhibition.
Just off the Fourth Street entrance unsurprisingly adorned with a “Starry Night” print and through the small entrance where tickets are scanned is a winding hallway that begins the experience.
It takes you through van Gogh’s personal life and career, starting with a giant, colorful bust of the artist with moving images projected onto it, then moving on to a timeline of his life.
Quotes from his life (many from his letters to his younger brother, Theo) played throughout the experience, showing his thoughts on color, life, sadness and his art.
Along the walls hung prints of van Gogh’s work, including his series on sunflowers, various self-portraits and, of course, the famous “Starry Night”. From there, this section of the museum gives a life-size 3D rendering of the “Bedroom in Arles” painting.
Part two: The 360 degree immersive room (or what you came to see)
As if the first part of the exhibition hadn’t already completely transformed from its TJ Maxx roots, climbing a flight of stairs and into the huge projection of van Gogh’s works was enough to take you out of the mindset of the old department store.
The two-story room, filled with chairs, rugs and raised surfaces for visitors to sit on, allowed van Gogh’s paintings to literally come to life. The animation allowed birds to fly, clouds to float, plants to sway in the breeze, and boats to sway on the water.
Visitors inside were allowed to sit, stand, lie down, or move around. Everything needed to bring the experience to life.
Through music and animation, the artworks flowed from one to the other, reflecting off all four walls and onto the carpet below in an encounter of approximately 30 to 45 minutes. And throughout, a voiceover gave more quotes from van Gogh, presenting a journey through his life, his development as an artist, his mental health struggles and, ultimately, his untimely death.
This is the most recognizable part of the exhibit, the part where you are likely to see friends who have visited the exhibit on social media. “Have you ever dreamed of stepping into a painting?” advertisements beckon, and enter a chart, indeed, you do.
The video, which plays continuously, ends with an actual image of what Van Gogh looked like: the only confirmed photograph of him, an unbiased look at the artist who often painted himself.
Third part: The studio
After the immersive room, visitors can draw inspiration from van Gogh’s art and color their own versions of a number of his works in the adjacent studio.
After coloring, you can scan the finished work to appear on a large projected wall, and you can choose to keep your art for yourself or pin it up in the room.
Part Four: Virtual Reality
If you tend to get queasy, hold on to your hat. The last part of the immersive experience is optional, free for VIP members and an additional $5 for other participants.
This is an approximately 11-minute virtual reality experience (yes, with the headset on) that guides participants through van Gogh’s life in Arles and Saint-Rémy de Provence, France, where he would have was in a good mood and is said to have painted some of his finest – known works.
You start virtual reality in this famous “Chambre à Arles”, traveling outside through the wheat fields of Arles, through the woods, through the town of Saint-Remy de Provence before ending at the edge water, stopping along the way to examine many of the paintings done there.
The good thing is that it’s virtual reality, so while wearing the headset you can look up, down, all around and experience the south of France through van Gogh’s eyes. But the downside is that it’s also virtual reality, so it’s a little disorienting if you’ve never done it before.
The experience ends there, which, of course, leads directly to a Van Gogh-themed gift shop.
So is Van Gogh Cincinnati: The Immersive Experience worth checking out?
It may depend on how big your Van Gogh fan is, but it’s a fascinating experience to see some of the world’s most famous paintings come to life around you.