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As ‘Beyond Van Gogh’ finishes up in Fresno, what did TMR readers think?

The big “Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience” finishes up its final day in Fresno (it closes Sunday, Aug. 21). Let’s take a look at what TMR readers thought. Nearly 50 readers answered my informal Van Gogh poll.

Here are the responses, along with some of my comments/reactions:

My response: I lean more toward the “Thought it was OK” camp. I’ll be honest: As I experienced the show, I kept trying to swat down feelings of superiority that kept darting into my head. As in: I’ve seen a bunch of Van Gogh paintings in person, including “Starry Night” in New York and the massive collection at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and they’re much more impressive in real life. And: What you miss from a show like this is the dimensionality of what the artist did: He sometimes slathered on the layers of paint so thick that they took on a topography all their own (especially if you were an ant, say), and Van Gogh’s daring color combinations are that much more vivid and vibrant when you witness them in person. However, I tried very hard to banish such elitist thoughts. First of all, not everyone gets the opportunity to travel to see an original Van Gogh, and one fine thing that the show organizers did was figure out a way to bring the visuals to people who might not otherwise get to experience them. Secondly, the exhibition is a clever use of immersive technology, particularly taking advantage of the animation that video can provide. The nearly continual flutter of images across the walls of the exhibition hall was impressive. And, finally, the accompanying musical score added a buoyancy to the experience that I don’t often experience in museums, which are traditionally library-style quiet.

That said, I think the price really divided the audience along socio-economic lines. (See below.)

And a final note on the technical aspect of the experience: I don’t think it was as immersive as it could have been. The space seemed to have too much natural light during the daytime, and the upper parts of the walls and ceiling of the exhibit hall felt exposed and drab. I’ve seen photos of the exhibition in other cities in which those spaces were a deep, rich black, which I think would have made the images pop a lot more. (Note: I went on preview night for the exhibition, so it’s possible that the staff was able to darken up the room after that; some of the local photos I’ve seen posted on Facebook suggest that.)

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What you liked most (here’s a sample of the 46 opinions offered by readers):

• The expanse of the art, & the way it morphed from piece to piece. Also loved the music!

• The technical wonder of a seamless presentation. It made Van Gogh’s work come alive.

• The sense of being surrounded and embraced by the genius, brilliant colors and bold strokes of Vincent – the wash over his variety of subjects, the feeling that I could watch him work. It was enthralling.

• I found it life changing. After seeing the exhibit I drove up to Sierra High for an all class reunion. Everywhere I looked I could see how Van Gogh could have/ would have seen the mountains, hills, trees, and country life, such as old tractors just parked where they died.

• Seeing the paintings larger than the originals and the addition of movement. My favorite was the orchard.

• The biographical info at the start of the exhibition. Excerpts of Van Gogh’s letter to his brother. These were nuanced, sensitive, and shed light on his inner being and thought processes.

• The color!

• The immersive effects, the smoking pipes, the rippling water, etc.

• The lack of a crowd? The air conditioning?

• Being able to photograph the constantly changing walls.

• The immersion in the paintings and the ability to focus on minute details of images that might be missed in a standard static viewing.

• All the art I’d never seen, particularly the portraits.


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What you liked least (here’s a sample of the 45 opinions offered by readers):

• Trying to turn around to take it all in.

• There could have been a bit more seating.

• The starkness of the transition passageways and end corridor was a little jarring after all that richness of sensation.

• No dislikes.

• The pictures should rotate a little more slowly. Sometimes they disappeared/changed before I could get the photo I wanted.

• The music. It was kind of creepy, giving the feeling of being underwater.

• Projections, not actually the artwork.

• Nothing …… other than the commercialization of Van Gogh in the gift shop.

• The price of items in the gift shop.

• The interview with Fanny Curtat and other articles said there were 3 rooms and the experience would take about an hour. I’m a quick reader, my husband is not. The first room took us about 10 minutes. The second room was empty. We stayed the full thirty minutes in the immersive third room and thought it was spectacular, but it was about halfway through our time there that I realized that was the third room. I felt a bit cheated. What did we miss in the empty second room?
The way they tried to “update” and “modernize” the experience of seeing his paintings. It felt vaguely insulting, like they’re both pandering to and patronizing the audience, and also assuming his work isn’t good enough on its own merit.

• I never felt any emotional connection to the work of Van Gogh. Where was the experience?

• Some of my fellow valley dwellers do not have the appropriate manners to go to a show like this.

• The middle room was too dark and didn’t really serve a purpose other than as a segway to the final room. Sort of felt like a waste opportunity. Although I loved seeing Van Gogh’s work in this way, I didn’t /learn/ much. I would have enjoyed spots where I could have read more about his development as an artist, with exemplars of his changing style and how the art world around him influenced his work. Some of this was hinted at, and would be sufficient for someone very familiar with his work. Also, personal information about his when and why paintings were painted. After watching i hunted around on the web site and found very scant information about this that I would have enhanced my viewing…for instance his blossom painting was painted went his nephew was born and what that meant to him (celebration of the wonder and beauty of new life). I left the experience itself after only one cycle hoping my questions would be answered after. Nothing. No brochure, no website with this sort of information for use during the visit, not even a single book on Van Gogh in the gift shop after. One word review: incomplete.


My response: Frankly, I’m astonished that “Beyond Van Gogh” stayed in Fresno as long as it did (including an extension). No one ever told me it was hard to get tickets. My guess is that the running costs of the show, once it’s been set up, are relatively low, and that there wasn’t another obvious place for it to move to yet in the rest of the country. With multiple versions of the show playing in various cities — and a competing show also blanketing the country — I’d think the saturation point is being reached. However, this was very good news for attendees, who didn’t have to worry as much about bumping into other people.


My response: I thought the price point was too high. I think the $25 range would be far more reasonable, considering that’s how much many of the world’s top museums charge.

What you thought (a sample of the 29 opinions offered by readers):

• The price was a little steep for one hour, but I’m glad I went.

• Short but compelling presentations like this one could open a door to art and inspire creative minds without having to visit the world’s art galleries which is definitely harder and more expensive to do now.

• I appreciate it came to Fresno so I was able to experience it.

• No.

• I was struck by how white the audience was last Friday early evening.

• Knowing that the digital technology involved was probably quite expensive to develop and execute, I feel the admission price had to be elevated somewhat, considering the other expenses involved. That said, some folks who would have benefited from getting to know Van Gogh a little better were either shut out or chose not to go due to the price level.

• It’s probably not something you do frequently but it’s not more than a medium priced ticket to the Philharmonic or some of the prices at pro sports events.

• I’ve spent $1/minute on worse things.

• If I’m paying over $70 per ticket for 37 minutes, music needs to be a live string quartet & maybe a guitarist doing McLean.

• The production value warranted the ticket price.



FINALLY:

One reader opted to write a complete “mini-review,” which I’ll offer in full:

I will never forget the Van Gogh experience. The first portion overwhelmed me. I discovered I was crying. Maybe because the “grounds” for all the texts were grounds enlarged from his paintings and caused me to almost be “inside” his brush strokes and colors. Then we got to the paintings! We were engulfed by the rhythm and color and form Van Gogh found within life—the reality of his existence; we looked through his eyes at his world. It seemed to me as though I was inside his soul, looking through his eyes.

The entire experience is a product of great genius and a brilliant design for the use of technology to produce a soul stirring event illuminating the work of a painting genius. Even the music seemed so specially “right.”

On reflection, I think it was worth the price. But I believe that each ticket should have carried a discount toward purchase of a later ticket for a return visit. All things being equal, I would enjoy seeing it again. Now, of course, I am wondering what other painter’s work might benefit from a work-over by the genius group that created “Beyond Van Gogh.”


 

Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

donaldfresnoarts@gmail.com

Comments (3)

  • Kathy Hart

    I agree that if you’ve seen original Van Goghs in Amsterdam, the Musee d’orsay, or the National Gallery or the Hermitage—I could go on and on— the immersive exhibits are not close to the originals. But the children and grandchildren I took were delighted and entranced and excited! They don’t have my 50 plus years of traveling the world, and I reveled in their enthusiasm and enjoyment.

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  • Haley

    I’m with you. It was ok. I’m glad I experienced it but I wouldn’t do it again, nor would I recommend it to anyone at that price. We went to Boom Oaxaca immediately after for $5 and THAT was gorgeous, powerful stuff. Especially Narsiso Martinez’s work.

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  • Jackie Ryle

    Thank you, as always. Donald, for your experienced insights. I was able to go and enjoyed it a lot. Thank you especially for including the full text of that wonderful testimony. I’m always a little put off by those with the privilege of extra-ordinary experience putting down elements of recreations (thank you for qualifying yours) and saddened by those who seem to pick apart every element of things they don’t resonate with. All that having been said, I am so grateful that the production came to Fresno and I was able to see and feel and hear it. I am one of the ones who loved it!

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