I appreciate Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings as much as the next person, but the immersive, experiential Van Gogh traveling exhibition brings his paintings, his life and his travails to a totally new level. I was fortunate to catch the traveling show in Israel at the Arena complex in Herzliya. It was a stunning, unforgettable experience.
One is first guided into a huge space where the 360 degree surround sound and imagery are otherworldly. The fact that Van Gogh’s imagery is so iconic and recognizable made the experience feel intimate and monumentally epic at the same time. I’ve never dropped acid, but it felt like I was tripping as Van Gogh’s painted petals detached themselves from the branches of giant cherry blossoms, sunflowers careened underfoot and flocks of black crows took flight from haystacks that danced and spun around me. I could have stayed there for hours.
The artists and production team who created this sensory delight have to be applauded. The viewer is taken on an emotional roller coaster – chirping birds and beautiful vases of flowers morph into gaudily painted characters who peopled Van Gogh’s life in Arles. Then comes the suspenseful music that foreshadows Van Gogh’s descent into madness and despair.
But just when I thought that it couldn’t get any better, the next phase of the exhibition blew me away. Visitors are fitted with Virtual Reality headgear that literally transports you back to Van Gogh’s time, starting right in his famously painted bedroom.
And from there one flies down the steps, walks through the town of Arles, greets his friends and patrons, wanders through meadows, sidesteps chickens, watches the boats glide on the river and the night turn starry over the local church. My hands were reaching out to touch the cows, or hold onto a handrail. Magical, simply magical.
I happened to visit the Van Gogh show just days after another truly inspirational and totally unique cultural experience that played a different game with my senses. The Israeli town of Jaffa is home to a unique space called Na LaGaat (‘Please Touch’). Na Lagaat presents cultural opportunities for connecting the deaf and the blind, those that are both deaf and blind, and the wider seeing and hearing public. I attended a concert there by singer/songwriter Yoni Rechter – IN TOTAL DARKNESS! Not only did the audience experience the concert in total darkness, but the musicians had to play in the dark as well. The words to the songs have never sounded sweeter, nor more poignant.
I’ll never look at a painting in quite the same way again, nor listen to a song in quite the same way…