Immersive Van Gogh is a new experimental art exhibition highlighting the work of the most celebrated and elusive figures in art.
Coming to San Francisco on March 18th, it was designed by creative director and Italian film producer Massimiliano Siccardi, with original compositions by Italian multimedia composer Luca Longobardi, who provided a score combining experimental electronic music with “pure, ethereal and simple-seeming piano.”
Taking residence at the SVN West, the venue formerly known as the iconic Fillmore West, the site will house 500,000 cubic-feet of projection and 90 million pixels illuminating the life and work of post-impressionist Vincent Van Gogh.
We recently had the chance to speak with the exhibition’s Co-producer Corey Ross of Starvox Entertainment, and he had a lot to explain in terms of why and how the team of Immersive Van Gogh were able to capture a unique and (as the title says) immersive experience for attendees walking through the enlarged and enhanced gallery of moving Van Gogh paintings.
The exhibition has had rave reviews in its initial offerings in Chicago and Toronto, with each site being completely different experience than the other. The architecture of the chosen sites for each city bring a whole new angle to the moving art, as each building was selected to act as another facet of the exhibition, becoming part of the projections total experience.
Corey, thank you so much again for taking time to talk about the exhibition. I wanted to start off by asking if you could explain what exactly the Immersive Van Gogh exhibition is and how it is presented.
Sure. I think the shorthand was, speaking to Americans about immersive Van Gogh is if you’ve seen episode five of “Emily in Paris” on Netflix, then you know exactly what we’re talking about, because there is a shot from inside the immersive show that our creator, Massimiliano Siccardi, created in Paris.
But if you haven’t seen it, the concept is that Massimiliano takes over a building which has interesting architecture – in our case in San Francisco it’s the original Fillmore club where the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin got their start.
And it’s an amazing building because of its fabulous Arabesque archways. We take over a building. We digitally map the architecture in the building, and then we project on the architecture. So, the architecture of the building itself is part of the art and the whole thing is shaped around the architecture.
[Then] the building itself is transformed by the art. Archways and then the floor and columns become animated with the organic pieces of Van Gogh: sunflowers, clouds, mostly organic shapes.
We’re projecting onto the architecture of the building Van Gogh’s art at a massive scale. There’s 500,000 cubic feet of projection. There’s 90 million pixels. And so, when you come into the environment, you’re seeing these pieces blown up to a level that you’ve never seen them before.
If you’re if you’re what I call a ‘technique geek’ and you’re really interested in sort of observing Van Gogh’s technique, his paintbrush movement his speckles of paint – the whole way that he created it, there’s no better way to investigate that than seeing it blown up to 30 by 150 feet.
But the most interesting part of what Massimiliano is doing is the animation of the work and the choreography of this music. The experience is loosely narrative: [the] point of departure for how we created this show is we wanted to imagine what Van Gogh would have seen flash before his eyes in the moments before he died. So, it tries to capture all of Van Gogh’s artistic life, and it feels like a stream of consciousness, and it’s all choreographed to an extraordinary soundtrack that a gentleman named Luca Longobardi has put together.
The animation itself is interesting in that it, first of all, brings the pieces to life. We have likened 400 images of Van Gogh’s art from museums around the world. And then those pieces, you know, there’s movement within them for sunflowers swaying in the breeze and clouds go by overhead and stars twinkle, so it’s bringing the art to life, but it also deconstructs and reconstructs the art; one piece dissolve and molds into another and becomes another, and they reflect on each other and go back and forth.
And all of that to enable this loose narrative and storytelling of that captures Van Gogh’s life as an artist. And so that’s the show!
The public walks in. We have projected right into the design on the floor projections [of] social distancing circles. We realize the circle is one of Van Gogh’s favorite shapes, so it fits right in. But you’ll find a circle to stand in, but you’re not confined to that circle. It helps you stay safe and socially distanced from people around you.
But people move through. As the circle next to you empties, then you would move into that circle. So, it’s another important part of the experience, is that you’re moving through the art as it’s changing and morphing around you and reacting to the architecture. And that, as briefly as I can handle, is what the Immersive Van Gogh experience is.
Could you speak a little bit on how the project initially came together? What specifically led the team to choose Vincent Van Gogh and prompted you to look for him, as the artist to spotlight in this experimental style of exhibition?
Well, so the choice of Vincent Van Gogh is Massimiliano’s choice. As a producer I had heard about Massimiliano’s work in Europe, and then I flew over and saw it and was very excited by his. And so we sat down with him and said, we’d like to help bring your work and this immersive arts concept to America. And we asked him which artist he might start with. And his idea was to do Van Gogh because Massimiliano is very intrigued by Van Gogh – he’s done two other Van Gogh [projects] in the past and just thought that he could approach it and bring new things he hadn’t done before.
Artistically, he was excited by the idea of working on Van Gogh. What I can say is that I think in a way we were very fortunate that he chose Van Gogh because Van Gogh is one of the most interesting artists to reflect on and think about during the time that we’re going through with COVID, because Van Gogh really had some serious struggles in his life with mental illness.
He was isolated a long time, in self-isolation, and committed suicide; he came to a very sad end. But his art continues to transcend and fascinate people 150 years later. And so to me, that’s a bit of a cathartic story and bring some hope to people. You know, something positive can come out of this experience that we’re all having collectively. And if there was an artist that would relate to this more than any other its Van Gogh.
So again, it wasn’t my choice. It was Massimiliano’s choice. But I think it was very fortunate and timely that this ended up being the choice.
Can you tell me if there were any unique challenges for you as a co-producer with your team on this exhibition during a pandemic?
I mean, the big challenge has been COVID and figuring out a way to muddle through and present the show safely during a pandemic is something that’s never presented itself before. But beyond that, it’s just a very interesting and different kind of project to sort of get your arms around as a producer.
There’s no actors or singers so it’s not that world. But I think the challenge is to facilitate the artists in creating something that’s truly unique and extraordinary and has value for the public to come and see and that’s maybe the challenge in every event.
But this one is so unusual, and people don’t understand what it is that they’re going to see. So it’s interesting to see how people come in with limited expectations or expectations of something different and then come out with their eyes wide because really, this is a completely new way of encountering art, a completely new experience.
It somehow sits at the crossroads of, you know, experience and entertainment. Something that San Francisco is really familiar with, with projects like the Museum of Ice Cream.
So it has it has a bit of that in it, and really ultimately, it’s a film. [Massimiliano’s] created an animated film of Van Gogh’s art. It’s got filmmaking in it and it’s got the exhibition of art and the these [elements] mix and intermingle to create something that really is a new way of encountering art in a new creature.
And what’s exciting as a producer is to see how the public and art interact. That’s kind of the moment that gets me excited. To be able to take people, you know, metaphorically by the hand and welcome them into this and bring them through something that’s completely unique.
Could you talk a little bit on how you’re incorporating the local artists within the exhibition and how that works?
In each city that we’re going to we’re selecting one or more local artists and we invite them to create a workshop in the lobby space and to create art for the public as they come through, and typically that’s Van Gogh inspired art in some way and people just love it. Like they come in and they get to meet someone local and support a local artist. We’re able to support local artists and we’re able to make that connection between someone contemporary, someone 100-150 years after Van Gogh passed away.
I say that to make that connection between a local artist, whether it’s a pop artist and graffiti artist, which is what we had in Toronto, or we have this wonderful woman doing art for us in Chicago who is more of a classical painter. But as we select and curate these artists to see how they can interact with Van Gogh’s art in Van Gogh’s scene, and create something new and unique and specific for a person who is standing in front of them waiting to have a piece of art created for them.
Thank you again Corey. My last question essentially boils down to, why would you recommend people come see the Immersive Van Gogh exhibition for themselves?
I think, first of all, everybody needs to get out right now. We need to begin to have collective experiences in a safe way, and this is a very safe way of dipping your toe back into this world, which is a world that we’ve all been missing for the last year and a bit.
So that’s the first thing, you’ve got to just get out! The second thing is it’s so, so unique. You’ll write this up and you still won’t capture it.
I remember flying to Paris the whole way there thinking, what am I going to see in projected art in the city where people have the Louvre? And I figured, well, the worst-case scenario is I’ll just go to the Louvre. This thing turns out to be terrible, I’ll just go to the Louvre – it’s worth the trip to Paris.
But what I discovered when I got there just blew my mind, it’s a completely new, different way of encountering art and having something completely new that you’ve never seen before.
It’s just you can’t miss that. It’s a once in a lifetime [experience], that you’re a complete virgin. You have virgin eyes. You’ve never seen anything like it. So, here’s your big opportunity to get out of the house, finally, in a safe way, go to an event, go to something exciting, number one.
And number two, what you’re going to see is something you’ve never seen before. It’s completely unique and exciting and inspiring. Who wouldn’t want to do that?
Immersive Van Gogh opens on March 18th, 2021 and runs through September 6, 2021. Tickets and more info can be found at https://www.vangoghsf.com/