It is freezing within the Van Gogh 360° exhibit in DLF Surface Parking 5 in Gurugram, Haryana. As air conditioners are turned on full blast, you join the burgeoning crowd in the “Education Room”—a sort of waiting area that leads to the main show. It is populated with displays that offer vignettes and anecdotes about the Dutch post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh.
It is a windswept, rainy Sunday, yet the response seems unprecedented for an “art exhibit”. Families, large groups of friends, school and college students, couples, senior citizens in wheelchairs—everyone has turned up to see this immersive exhibit, which brings 300 iconic works, such as The Starry Night, Bedroom In Arles and Sunflowers, to life. One wonders if it is due to the sheer novelty of the event or the liberation of art from the white cube space.
Mark Monahan, executive director of the Canada-based Festival House Inc., which owns the intellectual property Van Gogh 360°, says that of the 2,000 works the artist painted, a combination of well-known and lesser-known pieces have been chosen to offer a unique perspective on his career. The vibrancy and detailing of the works lend themselves to an immersive environment. “The scale of the exhibit allows for an even greater appreciation of his technique, given each stroke is magnified. At a museum, it may be possible to delve deeper into the art side of things, whereas immersive art exhibits like Van Gogh 360° are about democratising art and making it more accessible for the layman,” he says. The immersive space was created by a Canadian animator group over eight months and the show is accompanied by an original classical instrumental score. “The technology includes large-scale 360-projection achieved through 36 projectors and high-powered computer servers that deliver crisp and compelling images,” Monahan explains.
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Van Gogh 360°, a travelling exhibition, debuted in India at Mumbai’s World Trade Centre in January. In the National Capital Region, it is being presented by DLF Malls and Absolut Glassware, till 31 May. There are plans to take it to other cities too. In a report in The Hindu earlier this year on the Mumbai show, Kunal Khambhati, head, live events and IPs, BookMyShow, which has produced the show, was quoted as saying, “We witnessed a footfall of nearly 80,000 enthusiasts over the course of two and a half months through 1,500 shows.” The NCR edition might post similar numbers.
You enter The Starry Night in the main viewing area. Orbs of light move across the inky skies in these floor-to-ceiling animated projections. People plonk themselves on to bean bags or the floor, taking in the brushstrokes and swivels in Van Gogh’s art. The crowd quickly gets divided into those who have come for the art and others who are there for a photo-op. Random selfie takers park themselves right in front of the paintings.
Yet there is something magical about seeing squiggles come together into a Van Gogh portrait. Or seeing an array of self-portraits arrange themselves on the big screens. Nearly 35 such self-portraits of the artist, who has come to be known as the greatest self-portraitist, are known to exist. “They were not painted out of vanity or self-absorption but simply because he was broke and could not afford to pay a model to sit for him while he practised portraiture,” notes the display in the Education Room.
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He was a prolific painter of flora, rendering vibrant versions of apricot, plum and pear orchards. He continued to paint gardens and the countryside after checking into a psychiatric facility in Saint-Rémy de Provence, France. There is something meditative about the blossoms that slowly make their way to the screens. Even the trees in the landscapes sway to the music. As strokes and colours dissolve and transition, you feel you are getting a glimpse of the artist’s mind. “Perhaps a lesser- known piece that is featured, relative to others, is Girl In White, which he painted during the last months of his life,” says Monahan.
To me, the most evocative display is the Potato Eaters. After a few seconds of complete darkness, the screens light up with lamps and a family of peasants comes into the picture. Wisps of smoke appear. The melancholy is palpable. Whether you are there for the novelty or to soak in Van Gogh’s art, the exhibit will be a memorable experience.
The shows are held daily, 9 am-9pm. Tickets, starting from ₹1,099, available on bookmyshow.com.