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'Beyond van Gogh: The Immersive Experience' will let viewers luxuriate in large-scale, animated projections of Vincent's paintings, selfies allowed.

COURTESY PHOTO: BEYOND VAN GOGH: THE IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE/NORMAL STUDIO - 'Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience,' opens November 19 at the Oregon Convention Center. Here it focuses on sunflowers and other flowers.

For van Gogh fans and the Vincent-curious, there's something new in town — something between the screensaver and traveling to Amsterdam, New York or London, where the most famous paintings are kept.

"Beyond van Gogh: The Immersive Experience," opens Nov. 19 at the Oregon Convention Center (It's not to be confused with a similar projection show, "Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience," which is playing in Seattle; see sidebar).

The show aims to give a brief history of the career of Vincent van Gogh, particularly the hyper-productive last 10 years before his suicide in 1890, offering a mixture of art historical education and sensuous immersion in moving light and color.

COURTESY PHOTO: BEYOND VAN GOGH: THE IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE/NORMAL STUDIO - 'Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience,' opens November 19 at the Oregon Convention Center. (It's not to be confused with a similar projection show, Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience, which is playing in Seattle.) It shows the art of Vincent Van Gogh in a mixture of art historical education and sensuous immersion in moving light and color.

The show uses three rooms: the Education Room, the Waterfall Room and the Immersive Experience Room. The first is a basic intro to the painter and has wall texts to read. The second has flowing colors pixels and almost abstract images. And the third is a large space with projections of the great paintings on the floor and walls, including three "monoliths" or extra walls you can walk around. Viewers are invited to linger, wander or sit, have no time limit and can move backward in the sequence if needed.

The Portland Tribune talked to Fanny Curtat, the art consultant behind the show, by Zoom from Montreal, Canada. Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.

COURTESY PHOTO: BEYOND VAN GOGH: THE IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE/NORMAL STUDIO - Fanny Curtat, the art historian consultant behind the show, Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience.

Portland Tribune: The show hits the classics such as "The Starry Night," "Sunflowers" and "Café Terrace at Night," as well many self-portraits, and uses over 300 of his paintings. What does the average person get out of such a show?

COURTESY PHOTO: BEYOND VAN GOGH: THE IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE/NORMAL STUDIO - 'Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience,' which opens November 19 at the Oregon Convention Center, Vincent's trademark star swirls are animated to abstraction.

Fanny Curtat: It's not about having a competition with a museum. There's nothing like the magic of an original. But there's something quite unique about the possibility of living this fantasy of going through the frame, and really walking through this world of shifting colors and movement. We don't have this uniqueness that we call an aura, in art history, from an author called Walter Benjamin, because there is nothing like an original. And yet, we have this other immense possibility, that is to choose and get any image that we want.

You're switching scenes really like a dream, that's just like a bubble out of your day, where you get to be in a painting, and you get to live in this world of color. It's a type bubble experience, taking you out of your day-to-day life, to just be truly with the art.

PT: What will people learn about Vincent van Gogh?

FC: You have this treasure trove of information with his 18-year correspondence with his brother Theo, so his work has a voice, it has an intimacy, it has a different connection. And so, the audience goes through that. With somebody as notorious as Van Gogh, people tend to only remember the same aspects, of course Starry Night, but mostly the negative aspect of his life almost, this myth of the suffering, troubling, tortured artist, the struggling with madness, the poverty, the ear-cutting incident. It tends to get in the way of the appreciation of the sheer power of the work itself. When you look at his work, you see — light, this movement that we think about what Starry Night, you know — we remember this swirling sky more than anything, we remember the vividness of the colors. When you're in front of an original, you want to touch it, because it's so powerful, it's so bright, it comes at you. That's why he was such an easy fit for this … you don't have to do much to breathe new life into it.

It was all about providing this journey for the audience to get to know him better and to focus on the power of the colors and his work, the power of the movements, the joy, that it has the healing quality of nature that he puts into his work.

PT: What could you do to animate the Portland Art Museum's only van Gogh painting, "The Ox-Cart" (1884), which is from his dark, early period of painting ordinary objects from peasant life? (Another example is "The Potato Eaters")

COURTESY PHOTO: BEYOND VAN GOGH: THE IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE/NORMAL STUDIO - 'Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience,'  opens November 19 at the Oregon Convention Center. Here it focuses on the lights on the Rhone river.

FC: Anything that was close to the soil, was close to nature, had a holiness to him. Just like the Potato Eaters having the beauty of these gnarly hands, holding a potato. It's about seeing the beauty in everything. And that's still what makes him so relevant for us today, and especially after we were all cooped up inside, to have somebody who focuses on details around him and sees the beauty in it … it's all about seeing the value of seeing the beauty in ordinary things. In the show, the birds (in the Ox-Cart) would be moving, maybe the wheel would be turning, maybe the head of the ox would be moving slightly. We won't put a setting sun in the background, which is not there. Just give it this slight movement, this slight impression that it's still alive, and that it's still coming at you. It's not yet the van Gogh of Arles in the South of France. And so, this would not move as much. This would be more a work of composition of putting it along with the other paintings of that era to understand a sense of what he was showing, which is this nature, that can be dark, but it's still worthy of a work of art.

Most of the images are in public access. So, we do have limitations, but then not the same limitation a museum would have. For example, with all the van Goghs that we have in the show, it would be impossible, just the insurance fee alone would be out of this world, not even talking about traveling and handling these paintings.

Some of the quotes are quite short. I read every single word in a museum; my husband reads none. And so even if you don't have this kind of mindset, you still have these images, there's an atmosphere, and you have these quotes that are there that are very short, and that are very easily accessible. People do read, and they get to the Waterfall room and then the Immersive room and then some of them will stay longer or stay longer in the first room. You need to cater for all type of audiences.

COURTESY PHOTO: BEYOND VAN GOGH: THE IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE/NORMAL STUDIO - 'Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience,'  opens November 19 at the Oregon Convention Center. Here it focuses on almond blossom, showing the Japanese influence on the Dutch painter.

PT: Are the viewers on a time limit?

FC: It's not limited. It would take about an average of one hour. Our only limit is if the number of people in the room gets really out of control compared to the (capacity) limitation. It's really meant to be a certain flow; you don't have a lot of people going backward. It's not meant to feel like there's a beginning or an end. For some people going to a museum is something intimidating, or it's something that they associate with something uninteresting, that has no connection with their lives. And this type of experience is meant to provide a different access to the art world.

COURTESY PHOTO: BEYOND VAN GOGH: THE IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE/NORMAL STUDIO - 'Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience,'  aims for a sensuous immersion in moving light and color, to the point of abstraction.

PT: Is it structured, or is it a jumble?

FC: He gets to Paris, he meets the Impressionists, he gets to Arles in the south of France and discovers this explosion of color, and then you have this explosion of complementary colors that we know him for. But we have some scenes that don't have any chronological (sense), all of the portraits and the self-portraits. So, you have this line taking you from the darkness to the light, with some moments in between that are breaking that line.

There are some paintings that are stand-alone moments. One scene that's dedicated to Starry Night, and that's unavoidable. But you have another one that's dedicated to "The Starry Night" on the Rhone, and another on "Almond Blossoms." But other scenes are compositions of many of his paintings, where you get a sense of this color going wild and his brushstrokes getting much more animated at the end of his life.

You have these incredible tools to provide a different story, to move and come at you. They're bringing these paintings to a whole new scale. How can this cutting-edge projection technology marry with this more traditional static image of a painting with Vincent van Gogh's production? It's about finding this balance in between this dialogue between these tools, this technology and his body of work.

PT: Was there a limit on how you could animate the works?

FC: We could do whatever you want. There's not one painting that's treated the same way. It's not about changing the colors or style. Van Gogh didn't blend colors, so why would we do it? Even somebody who doesn't know much about art can still pretty easily identify a van Gogh, because of these brushstrokes, because of this movement. And so, in this scene (Starry Night), that's what the tool brings us. In another scene, we have one of his paintings (Wheat Field with Crows) that was thought until 2019 to be his last. And we have a movement of crows through it, which is another type of turbulence, which indicates symbolically the troubles, because we're getting to the end of his life. That's the field where they found him once he shot himself.

I was there to provide the point of view art history. There's a freedom to animate, to a certain point, but also keeping to the essence of what the work tries to say. And my hope is that, once they're in it, they'll develop this connection to van Gogh. And next time, they're in a town where a museum has a van Gogh on its wall, maybe they'll be curious about seeing that.

You have some movements sometimes, for example, "Almond Blossoms," where the petals are flowing around you and you feel it's almost like twirling. Children in that particular moment tend to run a lot. Some people also have difficulty walking, so there are also some benches. A lot of people just try to take their foot in front of it and to just follow the lines and twirl at the same time.

COURTESY PHOTO: BEYOND VAN GOGH: THE IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE/NORMAL STUDIO - 'Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience,'  at the Oregon Convention Center shows the art of Vincent Van Gogh in a mixture of art historical education and sensuous immersion in moving light and color. Here it focuses on Starry Night.

PT: Where was it made?

FC: Our producers are in Alberta, and in Manitoba, but the creative studio (is) all in Montreal. We created it remotely very much with COVID-19 in mind. It was about also creating a cultural experience that would allow social distancing. The goal is to take the audience through this journey. We created it during COVID, so I saw it on my computer, 13 inches, for the longest time. And when I got to see it in the full space, with children running in it, they were following the quotes that were written through the experience and following the brushstrokes, following the colors. And there's something quite magical about that.

COURTESY PHOTO: BEYOND VAN GOGH: THE IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE/NORMAL STUDIO - 'Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience,'  at the Oregon Convention Center shows the art of Vincent Van Gogh in a mixture of art historical education and sensuous immersion in moving light and color. Here it focuses on flowers.

PT: You sound like the sort of person who can get really excited about German painter Gerhard Richter.

FC: I love him. He's one of my favorites.

PT: The art world is very snobby and people like to look down on van Gogh because he's so popular. How do you balance the two, the contemporary art world and the extreme popularity of Vincent van Gogh?

FC: There's no way of getting everybody on the same page. And that's the beauty of it. And I would be disappointed if nobody was going against these experiences and questioning them and debating. We don't know the impact of Instagram on the art world, we don't know what kind of tool it provides.

I have on my phone somehow this new access that I didn't have before The Met (and) The Museum of Modern Art, all the museums in Paris and Tokyo. So, there's something great about these tools, but we don't know the full extent of it. But this is tide that we can't really stop, like Instagram and social media and this impression of sharing subjectivity on a whole new level.

PT: Who else could you do an immersive show about? There are 1,000 other painters you could do that are almost household names. You could do Francis Bacon or …

FC: Francis Bacon is exactly one of the first one I thought about. It would be almost a scary experience. But wouldn't that be great? I'm thinking also that Georgia O'Keeffe would be spectacular, with the power of her colors and her depiction or representation of these beautiful American landscapes. And I'm thinking that somebody like Frida Kahlo also would be incredible with the surrealism, all of the symbolic presence, these animals, and then the Mexican identity and everything coming into play. Edward Hopper would be also pretty great. You could have something also more on the optical side, like Escher, you know, all the stairs coming toward one another. It could be 1,000 possibilities, there could be really great things to be done. And hopefully, if people get accustomed to this type of experience, maybe they'll be more inclined of going to one where they don't know the artist as well as van Gogh?

PT: How could the technology be expanded: bigger rooms, more animation?

FC: I'm thinking that the next step would be interactivity. They are walking, they're twirling, and you can see there's this appetite to almost touch it. That's also part of the fantasy of the museum, I have this very, very strong urge that, of course, I will never do, but I would love to touch a van Gogh.

So, either having the environment respond in some way to the audience or having some choice that the audience can make that will change the course of the show, or what they want, or the angle, I'm thinking that that would be the next step, because I can see this urge of wanting to be in it even more. And that's the possibility that these tools have, there are a lot of experiences, also using VR through these glasses and these lenses. And so, there's no knowing truly where these tools will get us.


Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience

When: Daily, Nov 19 to Jan. 9, 2022

Where: Oregon Convention Center, 777 Northeast Martin Luther King Junior Blvd.

Price: $36.99 for adults, $24.99 for children, up to $93.99 plus fees.

Masks mandatory.

Producers: Creative Director Mathieu St-Arnaud Montreal's Normal Studio.


Seattle's Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience

This reporter went to

currently showing in a warehouse next to Lumen Field, the Seahawks stadium in Seattle.

After a vaccination or negative COVID check, timed ticket holders are shepherded into the space on the hour. The first to rooms has written information about van Gogh's origins, the familiar story of failure ending in a frenetic decade of creative output — 800 paintings and 1,200 drawings. There great sequence of Sunflowers, painted to decorate for his roommate Gaugin in the South of France, are on display in oversized giclee prints. There's a short documentary about Vincent's color choices and shows how his work might look to him if he were color blind. There are stage sets for posing on Vincent's famously hefty chairs and bed. The hot, main room was carpeted and had deck chairs and round white rugs for socially distanced lounging. The cycle of works lasted about 30 minutes, varying from animated paintings, similar to the movie "Loving Vincent," to trippy dissolves and replicating architectural details such as Norman arches of a church. There was also music and a voice that intoned quotes about life from the artist.

Those who paid for VIP tickets got a free poster and a 15-minute virtual reality experience, which was excellent. By turning your head, you could look around the landscapes Vincent inhabited, as the point of view was propelled along like a very slow carnival ride. The movement would stop and look through an empty frame, until the scene behind it — lights on a river, a blazing night cafe, a crescent moon — transformed into a painting.

It's hard to know whether the money for an average ticket, around $40, would be better spent on a partial museum membership or a coffee table book. As communal experiences go, Seattle's "Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience" is as good as we get in 2021, getting in touch with greatness, vibing with strangers without removing our masks, then quickly dispersing into the warehouse district.

PMG PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN  - Seattle's Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience.

Address: 1750 Occidental Ave. S, Seattle, WA 98134

Price: $36-$54.40

Joseph Gallivan
Reporter, The Business Tribune
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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