How often do you go to an art gallery and find yourself bored by the interpretation? The labels on the wall can be awful.

Some art galleries and museums try to create novel ways of bringing their paintings to life with captions written by celebrities and interactive games. Others employ drag queens to interpret artworks live in the gallery.

There’s been a trend in recent years to try and create ‘immersive’ experiences that transport visitors away from the gallery space and into another world but, if I’m being honest, these are rarely effective and the budgets that museums work on are seldom generous enough to create a real wow factor.

But here, at last, is something that is truly immersive. And it’s pretty impressive, too.

Tuesday 16th July 2019 Picture Credit Charlotte Graham Picture Shows Van Gough ExhibitionVan Gogh: The Immersive Experience is housed in a deconsecrated church in the centre of York. Visitors step into a space where the walls and the floor are covered with projections of the artist’s works. The huge images are combined with an emotive soundtrack of music and words, wrapping us up sound and light and transporting us into Van Gogh’s world.

But this isn’t just static projections. Digital animators have morphed the paintings so that trees wave in the wind, crows fly over the wheatfields and the starry night twinkles at us from the darkness. Boats sail by and trains rush through the space. The faces of Van Gogh’s portrait sitters morph and squirm, provoking us to think again about the original paintings.

We’re even invited to don virtual reality headsets and travel through the village and fields of Arles in the South of France, and to hear Van Gogh’s recollections of the place as we view the settings of some of his most famous works.

Van Gough ExhibitionThis exhibition, currently on a world tour, could represent a real shift in the way museums and galleries interpret paintings. The display’s organisers are proud of the work they are doing, encouraging people to look at art in a new way. It’s only a shame that the written texts on the walls explaining the paintings’ contexts are so unbearably long, so unnecessarily clunky and so poorly written.

But they can’t get everything right at first. And the main attraction here is the immersive experience and the digital gadgetry, not the textbook on the wall.

For those seeking a different view of the work of Van Gogh, and a delightful hour of escapism from the real world, this would make a great stop off. If the queue for Jorvik Centre Viking, just next door, is too much for you, then drop in here for a visual treat.

By Steve Slack

Images: Charlotte Graham 


Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience is at St Mary’s York until January 5, 2019. Tickets £13, plus £3 for VR headset experience. Concessions and family discounts available.