Everything you need to know about 'Beyond Van Gogh' immersive art exhibit in Austin
Some of Vincent van Gogh’s paintings are so gorgeous, so vibrant, that you wish you could step inside them.
Well, wish no more. “Beyond Van Gogh,” an immersive art experience, comes to Austin’s Circuit of the Americas starting June 25. Through digital projection technology, guests will walk through famous works like “The Starry Night,” “Sunflowers” and “Café Terrace at Night,” which have been adapted and in some cases reimagined to fit the exhibition space.
The project was born last fall, says creative director Mathieu St-Arnaud of Montreal’s Normal Studio. St-Arnaud and his production partners were looking for a way to produce COVID-safe live entertainment and also put their teams to work.
"We did the numbers, and we can actually make the space wider and limit the amount of people in there, and it's pretty safe, since you can actually distance yourself and you're not in contact with many people,” he says.
And since “Beyond Van Gogh” doesn’t actually involve any of the painter’s actual canvases, the show can be mounted in three or four cities at a time, St-Arnaud says. They have a couple of different set-up plans that can be used according to the space they find in any given city, and the visual content is created at a very high resolution that can be scaled as needed.
There might be some competition — we’re actually in the middle of an incredibly specific boom of immersive van Gogh exhibits. Artnet News estimated earlier this month that there are about five similar touring shows currently in production across the U.S. The outlet pegs the popularity to one such show featured in Netflix hit “Emily in Paris.”
The Austin production of “Beyond Van Gogh” originally was set to open on June 18, but organizers announced a delay, blaming construction lags caused by inclement weather. Earlier this month, they said that ticket-holders would have their reservations — which cost anywhere from $40 per person under a group rate to $94 for a VIP admission — automatically rescheduled. That’s caused many complaints in the comments of the “Beyond Van Gogh” Instagram account, with customers saying that they had no input in selecting their makeup date.
The American-Statesman reached out to a representative about the rescheduling process: “If the rescheduled date or time isn’t suitable for the guest, customer service staff will work with the guest to find a date and time that does and all fees will be waived during this process,” a statement from organizers read. “If no suitable date or time can be found, refunds will be provided. Affected guests can contact customer service at email@example.com for assistance.”
Many of the online complaints claimed that attempts to contact the exhibitors have gone unanswered.
“Beyond Van Gogh” is scheduled to run through Aug. 8. A few weeks ago, we asked St-Arnaud what guests should know about the exhibit. Here are some highlights. Go to vangoghaustin.com for more information.
Why Van Gogh?
“Initially, they brought Van Gogh to the table, and I wasn't sure about it,” St-Arnaud says. “I was questioning the idea. We could do so many great artists, or we could create anything.”
But after conversations with an art historian, he eventually saw the appeal: "Anywhere in the world you go, even if you don't speak the same language, if you look at a painting (by) Van Gogh, everybody knows that. It's part of our worldwide global culture. He's everywhere. He doesn't know any boundaries.”
How many of Van Gogh's works are recreated?
“There's around 200 in there right now, in different forms,” St-Arnaud says. Sometimes people will find themselves inside of one painting brought to life. Other times, they’ll be in a composite setting made out of 20 or so different paintings, stitched, extended and blended to create a single cohesive space.
How does it work?
Technologically speaking, there are three main spaces in “Beyond Van Gogh,” St-Arnaud says.
First, there’s an education area, to give people context on Van Gogh’s work and creative life. Then, St-Arnaud's team created something new: a waterfall of color.
“Van Gogh never painted a waterfall, so we actually created one from scratch," he says. The team was inspired by the artist’s use of color and “work with turbulence." St-Arnaud hopes this feature can provide an escapist moment for visitors.
You have to go through the waterfall to enter the section that St-Arnaud calls the “dream gallery.” That’s the main feature of “Beyond Van Gogh”: an immersive projection space where the walls and the floor become van Gogh’s work, with an estimated 70 million pixels per frame coming from 30 projectors.
There’s an audio component, too. When you think van Gogh, you might think classical music, but St-Arnaud says he wanted to use sounds that proved the enduring relevance of the visuals.
"There was an opportunity for us also to try new things. OK, let's put ‘Starry Night’ with Miles Davis, what does that do? And actually, it works,” he says. “Beyond Van Gogh” also features more contemporary music from younger artists.
How is it 'beyond'?
People are often familiar with the myth of van Gogh, St-Arnaud says — the tortured artist who, beset by mental health struggles, cut off his own ear.
"Let's go beyond this,” he says. “Let's go beyond van Gogh, and meet Vincent. Something more personal, where we look at his life, what he created, how he saw the world and why he saw it this way, and why he painted the world this way. And why does it strike so many emotions with anybody?”
The name also reflects a desire to "go beyond the image and beyond the frame,” St-Arnaud says. “So we're not in a museum setting, we're far from that actually, we don't have the paintings. We don't have what museums have — they have the original artwork. So not having this is a huge challenge, but in essence, it gives us a lot of freedom that we can explore. … We can actually walk inside the paintings instead of looking at them.”