New York is one of the most unique and interesting cities in the world. Everything is gigantic, the skyline is filled with skyscrapers and huge towers, the city seems really immersive. Therefore, it is only fitting that the exhibition celebrating world-renowned artist Vincent Van Gogh in New York City is also massive and immersive.
Producers of “Immersive Van Gogh” enlisted Tony and Emmy Award-winning set designer David Korens for creative help after securing a 70,000-square-foot venue for their show in Lower Manhattan, the largest they’ve easily landed.
“They wanted something bigger, more luxurious and deeper,” said Korens, who has designed collections for “Hamilton” and “Dear Evan Hansen” and is a huge fan of Van Gogh. “I really wanted to try to find a way to help people in 2021 see him as a human being.”
Korens added a ceiling installation that uses nearly 8,000 paintbrushes to recreate “The Starry Night” in an exciting way, a station that uses artificial intelligence to give visitors an individual message from Van Gogh, a chance to co-create work with him on their phones, and kiosks that explore the artist’s synesthesia.
Corey Ross, lead producer of “Immersive Van Gogh,” said the show tends to go everywhere it lands, and New York has been the biggest challenge of any city the show has visited.
“The question was, really, how do we bring the essence of New York?” He said. “And of course, David Korenz is someone who loves his work and is the best guy. So it was the first contact.”
Some elements of Corin’s work are expected to be added to upcoming visits to other cities. The fair has already been presented in San Francisco, Chicago, Toronto and Paris and is set to expand to more than a dozen cities across North America, including Los Angeles, Dallas, Denver, Las Vegas, Minneapolis and Pittsburgh.
The heart of the show is the same in every city – a 38-minute digital film projected through the huge space that dynamically and elegantly weaves images from Van Gogh’s paintings on the walls and floor to the gentle soundtrack of electronic music and ethereal piano. These parts were designed by Massimiliano Siccardi, with original music by Luca Longobardi.
The gallery’s arrival in New York comes as the city is emerging from a lockdown that has shut down cultural events and art crowds. “I feel like this is a huge, bright beacon of hope for the arts in New York,” Korens said.
All visitors are required to wear masks and social distancing signals are sprayed throughout the exhibition. Korens made sure nothing needed to be touched, except perhaps the visitors’ cell phones. He said it was fitting that Van Gogh was often isolated: “He’s a perfect artist and this is a perfect time because we all struggle with isolation.”
Recently, there has been an explosion of renewed interest in the Dutch Post-Impressionist artist, and “Immersive Van Gogh” is just one of several traveling exhibitions that combine his work and technology. There’s even a competitor in New York a few miles away, “Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience.”
The New York-based producers of “Immersive Van Gogh” had plenty of space—the site on Pier 36 was once home to 25 basketball courts—they designed three galleries, each larger than the next, in which viewers could walk around or sit on benches and watch Van Gogh work float float.
Korens added to the galleries many large mirrored sculptures – some curved, some straight – that reflect and break digital images. Visitors are also greeted at the entrance by one of Van Gogh’s last self-portraits blown up to appreciate the nuances and brushstrokes of the master.
Korens hopes that visitors will be able to learn more about Van Gogh than just being the artist who cut off his ear and painted Starry Night. Korenz reminds people that Van Gogh was poor and only sold one painting in his life. “He did a lot of selfies because he didn’t have the money to pay for the models,” Korens said. “He was painting sunflowers because she was free.”
One of the more amazing additions attempts to put viewers inside the mind of Van Gogh, who had a form of synesthesia called chromesthesia where he was able to hear colors and see sound. The audience walks through 10 booths based on the colors often used in their paintings and gets a light and sound experience that simulates how people with chromium react to certain colors.
“This condition is now considered a gift,” Korens said. “But it’s totally misunderstood. And so this is a way for you to kind of get into the experience.”
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