Van Gogh Alive: The Experience, London [review]

2021, review

Hello!

At the beginning of the week, I took my partner for a surprise trip to London – after seeing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, we had another day of experiences and exploring to make the most of!

On our second day, I’d booked tickets for the Van Gogh Alive Experience in Kensington Gardens – I’m not particularly into art, I find it hard to engage with pictures and words and my neurodivergent brain doesn’t see any of the deeper meaning; at face value, I can appreciate a talented artist but I don’t need to spend ages looking at it.

So seeing how interactive and immersive this exhibit was, I was very excited to go (and to get some lovely pictures for Instagram). Plus that one episode of Doctor Who with Vincent Van Gogh in has given both my partner and I a really soft spot for him.

From start to finish it was fantastic – I bought a Starry Night face mask which I’ve very much enjoyed wearing, then we stood at the entrance watching a video of a robot using AI to recreate Van Gogh’s paintings which was very clever.

The next part of the exhibit was an area with pictures and descriptions of some of his most famous artworks, where he was at in his life and how they reflected his personal journey. This part I found a little confusing, as the whole point is that art is meant to be subjective so surely the perspective of one person who wrote the copy for this part of the exhibit can’t definitively decide the ‘meaning’ of the piece? But otherwise, once most people had cleared, it was lovely to just wonder round and learn more about his life (and more than what they teach you in school).

From there, there’s a recreation of the bedroom captured in several of his paintings which looks significantly more plain than the artwork. But that lead to a corridor to the main event…

A huge open space with big blocks with projections all over, in different sizes, all showing slightly different things, even projections on the floor. Here is where the real experience is – the sequence loops with five different pieces of music matched with five different artistic movements in his life. There was meant to be a smell with different bass notes and top notes or something but personally I didn’t smell anything… cool concept though!

We arrived just at the end of the last cycle, but we took a seat on the floor, socially distanced from other groups sat on the benches provided or on the floor around us and we watched this beautiful expression of a tortured man’s talents. With a few captions to give context and teach more about the artist, different artworks moved and appeared in time with the music. If all art exhibits were like this I’d probably be more interested in art!

It was such a unique way to not just learn about and appreciate art but to feel almost part of it; to be truly immersed in a story from 150 years ago. The projections felt almost 3D – all the brush strokes and colours felt alive somehow and it was a beautiful way to appreciate the vision of someone who’s no longer around to share it.

After the sequence finished, we went to a little sunflower room (which in all honesty was really dark and a little anticlimactic) and out into the gift shop (if I’d had £35 I’d have bought a paint by numbers I swear). Then we were back out to the Prince Albert memorial and the heart of London!

Personally, I think the tickets were a little expensive for what the exhibit actually is and how long we spent in there, but the exhibition is partnered with a number of mental health charities and it made me engage with art in a way I never have before, so i don’t regret spending the money!

I wholeheartedly recommend this exhibit – it moved me in a way I’ve never been moved by art and I really hope more exhibitions like this about other artists pop up because I’d love to experience them in the same way.

Thank you for reading,

Sophie xx

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