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Van Gogh: the Immersive Experience in Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C.

I lifted my feet and straightened my legs, like a little girl on a swing in a park.  In reality, I was an adult woman on a low-backed swivel chair in a converted shopping center.  But I felt as though I were floating through Provence on a ski-lift, and seeing it through the eyes of the talented and tormented Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh.

Van Gogh is quite possibly the most popular great painter today.  I’m such a fan of the artist that I once flew to Denver for Christmas week to see an exhibition of his work there.  So I was thrilled when Van Gogh:  the Immersive Experience came to Washington, D.C.  My friends and I went to enjoy the program last weekend.  The 20,000-square-foot Experience digitally reproduces many of Van Gogh’s classic works and enhances them with modern technology to create a sense that the visitor is actually in the scene.

The Experience begins with small copies of some of Van Gogh’s best-known paintings displayed with information about his life.  He created more than 2,000 works of art, including more than 800 paintings, most of them during his last two years.  Of these, he sold only one during his lifetime.  He suffered poverty and depression, and spent time in and out of psychiatric hospitals, until his death at 37, probably by suicide.  The artist is the poster boy of a tormented genius.  He saw things differently, and was misunderstood because of it.

He spent his final two years in the south of France, which provided inspiration for his bold, colorful works.  The Experience features a life-size 3-D model of The Bedroom in Arles.

The heart of the Experience features some of Van Gogh’s most famous works projected onto the walls, the ceiling, and the floor of a large room, furnished with chairs, benches, and small rugs.  Soothing music plays while the animated works move and morph into one another throughout the 35-minute loop.

At times, some of Van Gogh’s quotes appear atop his art.

Success is sometimes the outcome of a whole string of failures.

From here, visitors can go into a small studio and color their own versions of some of his paintings with crayons.  (Mine needs a little work.)

But the best part is the 11-minute virtual-reality add-on.  The visitor floats through the pastoral scenery that inspired some of Van Gogh’s greatest paintings, turning in a swivel chair to take in the entire 360-degree scenes.  One begins in The Bedroom at Arles, gazes up at The Windmill, passes the couple taking The Siesta, and pauses to savor the Starry Night Over The Rhône.  I could have dangled my feet above that River all night.

What to Know before you Go to
Van Gogh:  the Immersive Experience

Van Gogh:  the Immersive Experience is a pop-up program appearing in cities around the world, including Boston, Las Vegas, New Orleans, and Philadelphia.  In Washington, it takes place at the Rhode Island Center, 524 Rhode Island Avenue NE; there is ample parking.  Wear comfortable shoes and clothing in which you don’t mind sitting on the floor.  Allow 60 to 90 minutes.

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