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Gone are the days where the only way you consumed art was by standing before a frame. For centuries, curators have diligently placed art pieces onto gallery walls. Now, thanks to the rise in popularity of immersive art, Denverites can physically step into paintings by the renowned Vincent van Gogh.
On July 9, Stanley Marketplace became home to Van Gogh Alive: the experience, the highly anticipated multi-sensory exhibition designed to thrust attendees into the life and work of influential post-impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh. Created in part by Grande Experiences and hosted by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts (DCPA) through September 26, the attraction features more than 3,000 images and paintings, projected onto massive screens on the walls and floor. The installation is designed to take visitors through five separate movements of Van Gogh’s life, accompanied by a dramatic score of classical music that mirrors the painter’s chronicled emotions at each time.
If the enormous paintings and gripping melodies aren’t enough to captivate your senses, just give the gallery a sniff. The creators of Van Gogh Alive have intentionally diffused fragrances of cypress, cedar, lemon, and sandalwood to (hopefully) transport viewers to the orchards and gardens in some of Van Gogh’s most iconic works.
Yet, Van Gogh Alive is contending with not one but five immersive experiences traveling the U.S. that hone in on Van Gogh. Another installation is set to come to Denver later this year. But for John Ekeberg, executive director of the Broadway division of the DCPA, this installation is like no other. “Grande Experiences have designed a truly one-of-a-kind environment that envelops the visitor in light, sound, and images, with surprises around each corner,” he says. “This unique artistry provides a thought-provoking experience that combines art, culture, and history.”
His words may ring true as art-lovers discover fun surprises around each corner (did someone say sunflower selfie room?). Still, Ekeberg truly hopes that visitors will be able to “see the works of Van Gogh in a new light, gaining new appreciation and insight into this singular artist.”
CU Denver visual arts professor and painter Melissa Furness hopes that Van Gogh Alive, and immersive exhibits like it, will draw a larger audience to the scene. “Going to a museum can sometimes be an intimidating thing for someone who isn’t an arts professional,” Furness says. “I hope it draws in a different group of people and inspires them.”
She and some of her students are in the process of creating an immersive exhibit of their own, slated to debut later this year. Despite the growing popularity of marrying classical art with sleek tech, Furness argues that there’s nothing quite like seeing a painting in person. “It’s important to experience both a painting as well as immersive projections to compare them,” she says. “There’s certainly positive aspects to both experiences.”
Doug Kacena, owner and curator of art gallery K Contemporary, has similar thoughts. “Van Gogh’s art didn’t actually connect with me until I saw it in person, and saw the texture and lines,” he says. “Yet some studies have shown only 25 percent of Americans will ever step foot into an art gallery. If this can be a gateway to get people curious and excited about art, I’m all for it.”
Though the exhibit doesn’t feature any of the artist’s physical paintings, don’t be surprised if you lose track of time while wandering past the 20-foot screens surrounding you. The experience begins with “The Netherlands” movement, featuring stylistically dark works, a dramatic contrast to his famous, colorful technique. It continues on to feature movements titled “Paris,” “Arles,” “Saint-Rémy,” “Auvers-sur-Oise,” and ends with “Self-Portraits,” a series of some of Van Gogh’s iconic self-portraits that propelled him to become a household name.
And while it’s from the first immersive experience to hit the Denver (just look at Shiki Dreams by Prismajic or Novo Ita by Spectra Art Space),Van Gogh Alive is bringing a long-awaited return to public art events after—and merits all the Instagram-worthy snaps.
If you go: 2501 Dallas St #135, Aurora; July 9 through September 26, various times; Tickets must be purchased online in advance.