By Lynn Venhaus
An enticing sense of wonder and palpable joy in nature can be felt in “Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience,” now available in St. Louis.
Irresistible and imaginative, it is: “magnificent.”
Art lovers will swoon looking at the walls with a 22-foot ceiling, technology enthusiasts will marvel at the cutting-edge three-dimensional world, and all will be exhilarated by the moving digital light show that breathes new life into Vincent van Gogh’s life work.
One must experience this unique multimedia presentation first-hand to understand just what the ‘immersive’ aspect truly means.
The limited engagement which opened Oct. 1, runs through Nov. 21 and is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Four entry times are available each hour and tickets are sold online at www.vangoghstlouis.com
The installation is in the Starry Night Pavilion on the grounds of the Saint Louis Galleria, near the Macy’s side. Upon entry of the gigantic white tent, you will be educated about the legendary Dutch painter – his thoughts recorded in letters to his brother Theo, his dreams and own words about his life and work.
After the introduction, a second room, referred to as a “portal,” prepares visitors for the visuals by having them get used to the moving images – comparing it a dreamlike experience.
The work comes alive in the ‘immersion’ room, the third – and largest – space. then we become acclimated to the visuals of his works, through wall projections and finally, able to partake in stunning colors that swirl, dance and refocus into flowers, cafes and landscapes that operate on a 30-minute loop.
Overall, there are about 300 paintings representing his vast body of work. He had a fondness for portraits of peasants and still life of nature settings, and is known for a multitude of self-portraits.
His instantly recognizable masterpieces “The Starry Night,” “Sunflowers” and “Café Terrace at Night” come to life, no longer in frames, and you can see the details. The numerous shades of blue he used to depict night skies is remarkable – and vibrant.
The music score is symphonic and cinematic, and yes, you can hear snippets of Don McLean, along with Paul Simon, Miles Davis and other modern composers.
Whether you are familiar about the tortured artist or not, you can’t help but have a new appreciation for his work and understanding of the 19th century world he attempted to cope with in his all-too-brief, difficult life.
Sadly, he was more famous in death than in life. He was born in 1853 in Zundert, Netherlands. He didn’t take up painting until he was 28 years old. After bouts with depression, cutting off nearly his entire ear, confined to an asylum for a year – he painted nearly a work a day – he shot himself in the chest in 1890 and died two years later of infection in Auvers-sur-Oise, France. He was 37 years old.
His brother, Theo, an art dealer, died of syphilis six months later, and his widow, Jo, is credited for getting the word out about Vincent, and his paintings into the public eye.
In later years, medical experts have concluded that he likely had depression, bipolar disorder and a borderline personality disorder. Because of his poverty, poor diet, sleeping habits, drinking and smoking, he did not help his health either.
For those interested in exploring more about Van Gogh, four of his paintings are on display at the St. Louis Art Museum in Forest Park, including “Stairway at Auvers” and “Head of a Peasant Woman,” seen in the immersive projections.
For those wondering where others are, “Arles Sunflowers” and “Wheat Fields with Cypresses” are at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, “The Starry Night” is at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and “Starry Night Over the Rhone” is in the Musee D’Orsay in Paris.
“Café Terrace at Night” is at the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, the Netherlands. For that work, he set up an easel in the Place du Forum, a public square in Arles, and painted it en plein air.
“Irises” is at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and “Haystacks” is at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
At the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, you will find “Bedroom in Arles,” “The Yellow House,” and “The Potato Eaters.”
The Normal Studio, which has accomplished these shows with other artists, too, is known for pushing the boundaries of performing arts, entertainment, and public installations. Founded in 2009, they fuse physical and technological elements to transform spaces into multimedia magic, telling stories in new and different ways.
It is indeed a one-of-a-kind triumph in the St. Louis region, an experience not to be missed.
The St. Louis exhibit also has a gift shop. For a special, Schlafly has introduced a beer, Swirling Sky IPA, at its various locations.
The exhibition is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays in the Starry Night Pavilion on the grounds of the Saint Louis Galleria, Richmond Heights. Four entry times will be available each hour. They recommend that the exhibit takes one hour to view.
Prices start at $36.99 for adults, with VIP and premium passes available up to $93, and $24.99 for children ages 5 to 15, with children under 5 are free. Tickets are sold online at www.vangoghstlouis.com
Beyond Van Gogh is following all St. Louis County Health Department guidelines in place during the exhibition’s run. Parking is free at the Saint Louis Galleria. Group tickets are available for eight or more.
For more information, visit www.vangoghstlouis.com.
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.