Van Gogh Comes Back to Life: The Immersive Experience

For Mario Iacampo, the creative director and founder of the worldwide exhibition production company Exhibition Hub, galleries can be seen as much more than still-life paintings observed from afar. Proving this, Iacampo felt that Atlanta would be a perfect home for his latest project, Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience, which promises to intrigue those accustomed to traditional art museums. This weekend, I had the unique opportunity to attend this visually brilliant and interactive art getaway. 

Visual, immersive experiences are becoming more and more prevalent in major cities across the globe. Traditional museums where attendees roam the building, simply observing various artworks, are now having to compete with light shows and VR headsets featured in modernized museums. These two elements are exactly what can be found at the brand new Van Gogh show, which is hosted in the industrial complex, Pratt-Pullman Yard, located in the Kirkwood neighborhood of Atlanta. This rustic piece of Atlanta history originally built in 1904 by Pratt Engineering made for the perfect destination for Iacampo to create his Van Gogh exhibit. 

Van Gogh Immersive Experience in Atlanta (Video by Va Mag Intern Andrew Kacer)

“It reminded me so much of many of the cathedrals we’ve done in Europe. [The room in] the center of the Pullman Yards building gives you that cathedral-like feeling with the high ceilings. The building adds a level of texture to the experience,” said Iacampo in an article for Atlanta Magazine.

Upon entering the experience, I was greeted by soft instrumental music and walls in the entrance adorned with self portraits of Van Gogh. The dim lighting combined with the gentle music puts your mind at ease, giving you the opportunity to completely focus and take in your surroundings. As I continued to explore, I found myself in a large, historical section where attendees could both look at Van Gogh’s art and read passages outlining his life or explaining the context behind accompanying paintings. In particular, my eyes were drawn to a well-lit section highlighting Van Gogh’s affinity towards flowers and the many pieces he had made with regards to the subject. Each piece, similar from afar, yet so unique in detail upon a closer inspection showed why his work is regarded so highly and remains relevant to this day. 

Caroline of Atlanta, a visitor of the immersive experience said she was already familiar with Van Gogh’s work before visiting the exhibit.

“…But I learned more about his life here and I liked how it was setup – first with the still pictures and then you get the lights…”

-Caroline, of Atlanta

The most intriguing parts of the experience definitely had to be the 360 degree lightshow and the VR experience. Before I had stepped in the building, my mind was racing with ideas of what exactly was in store for me concerning these two elements and if they would live up to the hype. In my honest opinion, both of these portions of the experience absolutely delivered and made for some of the most eye-opening visual spectacles that I have had in a museum. Starting with the lightshow, The large, two-story room allows for various forms of seating, whether it be on a soft carpet against a wall, or in the comfort of a chair. With an unknown narrator portraying the voice of Van Gogh, the lightshow captured several different self portraits of Van Gogh set to orchestral background music. The lightshow allows for the attendee to sit, relax, and take in the brilliant spectacle and vision that Mario Iacampo sought after for the experience. 

The VR experience, for me, was the best and most interesting way to learn about Van Gogh’s paintings. I was taken on a journey through Van Gogh’s life and shown an animated portrayal of the settings and backdrops which inspired his paintings. This exhibit brought life to his work and was executed very well. The only drawback I felt however, was the fact that the VR headset’s volume was drowned out by the noise from the loud sounds of the lightshow immediately next door. This made it difficult to hear the narration in the virtual reality portion and slightly took away from the otherwise incredible experience. 

“It was truly immersive. I’ve never experienced anything like that…”

-Sima, of Atlanta

As advancements in technology continue to evolve, we can expect to see more digital exhibitions pop-up in different cities around the world. Luckily, if you’re in the Atlanta area you have a rare opportunity to experience the digital art movement at its beginning stage with the Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience installment at Pullman Yard. However, you’ll need to act quickly as more than 225,000 tickets have already been sold and the experience will only run until the end of 2021. 

-Andrew Kacer