Arts

Starry Nights — and Days

by Jennifer Blot

San Francisco welcomes a new immersive exhibition based on the life’s work of Vincent van Gogh

There’s been an almost Hamilton-like frenzy for tickets to Immersive van Gogh, the sensory arts experience that extended its San Francisco run — before it even opened. The in-person immersive digital art exhibition, which premieres at SVN West on March 18 (and will run through Labor Day and possibly beyond), is seizing a moment intensified by the public’s hunger for in-person arts experiences. Immersive van Gogh is an experiential walk-through art journey — accompanied by an original soundtrack, film and more than 500,000 cubic feet of projections — that explores the mindset of the creative genius behind Starry Night, Sunflowers and the Bedroom series.

According to Svetlana Dvoretsky, co-producer of Immersive van Gogh and founder of Toronto’s Show One Productions, the genesis of the project dates back to a trip to Paris in early 2019, during which she attended an immersive exhibition, also based on the life on van Gogh. “I was very skeptical about spending my time going to see something digital,” Dvoretsky recalls. “But the moment I walked into the space I was in awe — totally immersed.”

Back home, she was determined to bring something similar to Toronto. She joined forces with Corey Ross of Starvox Entertainment and secured the Italian creative team (led by artistic creator Massimiliano Siccardi and composer Luca Longobardi) behind the Paris show, which had ended its run. And, thanks to van Gogh’s artwork being in the public domain, the team was able to secure rights to more than 400 high-resolution images from galleries around the world.

Heralded by the Toronto Sun as “intense and emotional, cathartic and liberating” when it debuted in Toronto in July 2020, the Canadian production offered both a walk-through and drive-through experience. Unfortunately, like many events of the past year, the show was temporarily shuttered due to the pandemic. This year, however, if the stars align, the show will run concurrently in three cities: Toronto, Chicago and San Francisco. 

Admittedly “blown away” by the initial ticket sales in Toronto, Dvoretsky notes that the demand for tickets for the Chicago show (that opened last month) was even greater, followed by exponentially higher demand in San Francisco. Though the production is the same in each city, there are subtle differences based on the venue architecture, which is digitally mapped by the production team. In Toronto, the immersive journey takes place in a massive former newspaper printing plant; in Chicago, it’s a landmark ballroom; and here, the building that once housed the Fillmore West concert venue, and more recently, a Honda dealership. SVN West also has the distinction of hosting a rooftop cafe that serves food and beverages, plus a gift shop (where else can you find van Gogh face masks and paper dolls?).

The show explores the pioneering work of van Gogh and speculates on how some of his great masterpieces came to be through a combination of animation, music and special effects that “really gets under your skin,” says Dvoretsky. “This is more of a film concert/performing arts type of experience. It all surrounds you with huge brushstrokes. It has the effect of indefinite space and the space has a huge impact on your sensibility.”

The show’s timed tickets are key to keeping capacity low. The producers have built in social distancing protocols by projecting light in the form of circles — or bubbles — on the floor, which seamlessly blend into the exhibition. Attendees inherently sense when and how to journey through the exhibit and move about as circles become occupied and vacant. The show, which is designed for all ages, is timed but unrestricted. “You can stay as long as you want,” says Dvoretsky. “The film (which is 35 minutes) runs in a loop and we don’t expect anybody to leave right on the dot. We actually encourage people to stay for at least two times because you can’t really catch everything by just watching it once.”

Dvoretsky’s own passion for the exhibition has been continuously stoked by the reactions of attendees, which range from meditation to spontaneous movement. “People come in and lie on the floor,” she notes. “They lie for hours and just gaze. We have people who laugh. We have people who cry. We have people who dance. They just start to move and dance and … let their inner emotions come out.”


For more details, go to vangoghsf.com.

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