Immersive Van Gogh Resurrects the Painter in Denver

Immersive Van Gogh surrounds viewers with animations of the iconic painter's most famous works.
Immersive Van Gogh surrounds viewers with animations of the iconic painter's most famous works. Alexander Elmore
When planning for the North American exhibition of Immersive Van Gogh, artistic director Massimiliano Siccardi told producer Corey Ross he wanted to "make a vision of what might have flashed before Van Gogh's eyes in the moments before he passed away."

In the first minutes of Immersive Van Gogh, an ominous score, composed and curated by Luca Longobardi, rises up as nearly every inch of the exhibition space turns into something akin to television static. Van Gogh's signature, scrawled in red, opens and closes the show. A self-portrait of the artist materializes alongside sketches of a fly; the experience is something akin to the evil VHS tape from The Ring.
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Immersive Van Gogh surrounds viewers with animations of the iconic painter's most famous works.
Alexander Elmore
Immersive Van Gogh, which opened on September 30 in Denver, originated in France in a slightly different iteration, also co-created by Siccardi and Longobardi, called "Van Gogh, la Nuit Etoilee." It included many of the same paintings as this new exhibit does, but Siccardi wanted to create "something edgier...more psychological for America," says Ross.

The North American exhibits will run in a total of 21 cities by January of next year, and have already opened in cities such as Toronto, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Denver is the twelfth city to open, but only the first to do so on time, Ross points out.

The location of the Denver exhibition — Lighthouse Immersive Denver at 3900 Elati Street — might surprise visitors, as it is still partly operating as Assembly Student Living. In fact, the exhibition space has transformed the building's basketball court into a two-room gallery. This happens to be the third basketball court that Lighthouse has used for Van Gogh in the U.S.

"We quickly learned from Massimiliano that touring is not the way this is done," says Ross. Due to the multimillion-dollar technology and construction-intensive nature of the show, each city has had an immersive public space either created or modified specifically for the exhibition.

For around forty minutes, viewers wander through 400 of the artist's paintings displayed via projectors and floor-to-ceiling screens. But the immersion doesn't stop there. Hamilton set designer David Korins, an addition to the creative team specifically for the American shows, created reflective sculptures that can be touched and even be walked on, in some cases. These include a stalagmite-esque archway and a circular platform surrounded by a curved wall of mirrors, sure to be the centerpiece of Instagram posts.

"On one hand, we're seeing art, so there is an element of art exhibit here," Ross says. "Technically, what you're going to see is an animated film. The third part is the part where you're free to walk through, to explore. We are not at all competitive with an art exhibit."
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Immersive Van Gogh includes 400 paintings from museums around the world.
Alexander Elmore
The musical tone of the installation fluctuates from deadly serious strings to ethereal choirs to pop music. Edith Piaf's familiar "Non, je ne Regrette Rien," which was used to wake people up in Christopher Nolan's 2010 film Inception, punctuates a landscape of sunrise and sunset in a farming village. Other scenes focus on sunflowers, perhaps van Gogh's second-most-iconic subject, along with household objects like chairs and beds. And of course, every minute detail of "The Starry Night" is magnified and set in motion around the audience. In a way, the experience does feel like a dream, at times frightening and at others joyous, sometimes one of death.

"Ultimately, what this is not is an omnibus of van Gogh's paintings that you get to see. ... [The 400 paintings] became the raw material for Massimiliano Siccardi to pull apart, to deconstruct, to animate," Ross says. "Almost like a music DJ who takes a piece of music from one song and maybe a piece of music from another song and then puts a drumbeat between it and a strings section, and it becomes a new piece of music — that's what I see in Massimiliano's work."

Denver's edition of the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit is on view through February 6, 2022, at 3900 Elati Street. Tickets, starting at $39.99, and more information can be found on the Immersive Van Gogh Denver website.
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