I recently went to the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit, conceptualized and designed by Massimiliano Siccardi to display Van Gogh’s paintings in a new way and reintroduce them to the public with information about his life and experiences. The exhibit has received both stellar reviews of beauty and presentation and criticisms regarding the same. Rather than make judgements, I’m going to use this space to discuss the exhibit as an example of digital projects.
The exhibit uses animations and special effects to turn the collection of paintings into a moving picture accompanied by an original score. The paintings aren’t displayed in the order they were painted but instead sort of illustrate a timeline of Van Gogh’s life. Images of his bedroom are paired to turn the whole space into a giant house; a painting of bearded irises is visible through the cut-out window of a painting of the asylum in which Van Gogh lived for a year. This order puts the focus on Van Gogh himself instead of the works he produced and the development of his style, the more common topic in traditional museum tours.
The point where this project fails most, I think, is in barriers to entry. The exhibit costs between thirty and fifty dollars, barring many people who would be able to visit a free museum if they can afford to travel to it. In this case, the digital project does require a physical space, but it’s one that can travel and be duplicated in a way that the original piece of art cannot. Since the exhibit travels and is fairly popular at this time, I wonder if the cost of the ticket is entirely necessary.
The setup of the event also results in some barriers. To view the exhibit, circles projected on the floor mark either empty spaces or the locations of wooden backless benches. Cushions were available for purchase at the entry to the exhibit. As an able-bodied person, sitting for a minimum of 35 minutes (the length of one loop of the video; many viewers stay and watch two or more loops) on that hard bench, with no seat cushion, was uncomfortable. For someone with back or neck pain, I imagine it would be much worse.
But the display also broke down some very common barriers to access frequently found in museums and more traditional exhibitions. Viewers are not expected to stand or walk between exhibits; the hall was fully wheelchair accessible, with access ramps easily visible. While in museums, art pieces are almost always hung at eye level for the average standing adult and therefore are too high for wheelchair users and people of short stature, the projections were floor to ceiling, and details were scattered across that entire space. And because the exhibit does travel, it’s much easier to get a chance to see Van Gogh’s works in detail there than to travel to the Musée d’Orsay or the Met and see the originals. You’ll certainly see more of them than can be found in one place, even if you don’t get to see the texture of the brushwork in person.