One of the most famous painters in history, Vincent Van Gogh, has come to Memphis through the opening of a new exhibit at the Graceland Exhibition Center. Although none of Van Gogh’s original art is displayed, “Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience” promises to take the viewer on a tour of the artist’s work as if they are living inside the paintings.
The exhibit, developed by the Montreal-based Normal Studio, has since traveled to over 30 cities. The showing at Graceland, opened on March 25, is on view until June. The heart of the exhibit is a 35-minute video that uses virtual reality technology to transport the viewer inside some of Van Gogh’s greatest works.
“If people haven’t seen a Van Gogh in person before, hopefully something like this will get them interested in learning more,” said Dr. William McKeown, an associate professor of art history at University of Memphis.
McKeown, however, advised people to take the exhibit with a grain of salt. He said Van Gogh’s striking style, wealth of self-portraits and his widely known struggles with mental health often lead to romanticizing his art.
“You see his face looking back at you, and feel a kind of connection to him,” he said. “Add all of that up with a tragic story, and there’s that kind of sentimentality.”
The exhibit itself also plays up that sentimentality. The visual spectacle is accompanied by a dramatic soundtrack and quotes from the artist’s letters written across the walls in both French and English and narrated aloud. Spirals of color swim across the dark walls to form his “Starry Night” as booming bass fills the room. With a background of dreamy sax and jazz piano the viewer is transported to “Night Outside the Café” which melts into “Night Over the Rhone”. The figures move, the birds chirp and the trees sway in a nonexistent breeze.
Attendees stood around or sat on the provided benches, watching and taking pictures or videos on smartphones and tablets. Though the room was filled with around fifty people, it was nearly silent apart from the music and narration.
“It was really beautiful,” said Madison from Jonesboro, Arkansas. She and her friends Julie and Ashlyn drove in to see the exhibit after coming across the ads on Facebook. “It was very quiet and peaceful.”
Though Madison and Julie did not know much about Van Gogh before, they said they appreciated and enjoyed learning more about his life through the exhibit. Ashlyn was already familiar with the painter, though, showing off her sneakers printed with his painted sunflowers at the urging of her friends.
“I’m a big fan of him,” she said. “It was cool to come see everything he’s done and his history and background.”
Tickets for the exhibit can be purchased through the Graceland website, with varying prices for peak and off-peak hours.
The Van Gogh exhibit will be open through June at Graceland Exhibition Center, where patrons will be able to experience the painter's work in a new way.