Art brought to life: Take a peek inside Pensacola's Beyond Van Gogh experience (2024)

Brittany MisencikPensacola News Journal

Building 6 of Pensacola’s Interstate Fairgrounds is no longer a wide-open canvas, but home of the acclaimed 30,000-square-foot immersive art exhibit Beyond Van Gogh until Sept. 9.

The exhibit provides a new way to experience the life of troubled post-impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh through stepping into 300 interactive pieces of his work.

By incorporating both still and moving images and a room with 360 degrees of video walls depicting the artist's famous works almost-hypnotically appearing and blending into each other, the exhibit can feel alive to visitors thanks to the way it manipulates their senses.

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Typically, Van Gogh is best known for two things: chopping off his own ear and his masterpiece "The Starry Night," which was painted from inside of his asylum room at Saint-Remy-de-Provence in France near the end of his life.

Despite Van Gogh's troubles, art historian Fanny Curtat, of the Paquin Entertainment Group that brought the exhibit to Pensacola, said that his ability to see beauty and light through mental darkness was part of what made him so remarkable.

“I don't think I've ever met an art historian who specializes in Van Gogh who doesn't get teary eyed talking about him at some point,” Curtat told the News Journal at the exhibit Monday morning. “He (Van Gogh) is somebody who is, of course, incredibly talented, and yet who is fighting his own demons, who has his own things that he has to overcome. And we can all relate to that; we can all relate to this mix of confidence and self-doubt.

“He was known for fighting his demons, but it's a little bit sad that people sort of remember only him for his demons, where all his work is about finding ways to fight them and overcome the darkness in his life. And we can all relate to the tools and solutions that he found,” Curtat continued. “It's about appreciating the healing qualities of nature, the power of art, the power of color. It's about communicating what you feel, what you perceive. It's about appreciating the ordinary things for the extraordinary beauty that they hold. There's a lot there that can still be very valuable for a 21st century audience.”

Since Pensacola’s production debuted Aug. 5, people of all ages have basked in the “light” of Van Gogh’s artwork recreated with the help of 4 trillion content pixels.

If you can resist the urge to snap a selfie between each changing screen, you’ll notice the subtleties in each changing frame, like drifting clouds on the seascape and blinking eyes in the portraits.

Some waterfront scenes will spill off the screen and submerge your ankles on the floor display, and flower petals will float in your hair straight off the canvas of "Almond Blossom" due to the multidimensional projection technology.

“Anything that had the floor moving,” Sarah Sellers said was her 17-month-old son’s favorite part of the exhibit.

A toddler in light-up sneakers danced on Van Gogh’s sunflowers as they sprang up in all directions. Seasons changed in Van Gogh’s paintings to the sound of “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles, and night fell just in time for the crowd-pleasing painting, "The Starry Night."

It was the painting that most everyone in the room knew and the one that no one could stop watching.

The cyclone-like spiral brushstrokes wrapped around chair legs and ankles of those on the observation room. Golden paint smudges are placeholders for what will become the stars and the sun in the scene, and the sharp blues are mellowed with calm, creamy whites.

For visitors like Alabama artist Kimberly Russell — the beauty of Van Gogh's work was in his perception.

“More than likely, I was the only one standing in there that actually had tears in their eyes watching it all,” Russell said. “It's one of those things where you're either moved by what you see, or you're not.”

Van Gogh painted what he felt – regardless of whether others saw it the way he did – and expressed his emotions on his canvas, Russell said.

"You can see it in his brushstrokes, you can feel that. That little quick motion that he obviously used time and time again, he could feel it just trying to come out of him and he was just going about it in the quickest and most efficient way that he could possibly get,” Russell said. “(The paintings in the exhibit) were blown up to such a degree that it's like you can actually see where he was painting with such vigor and just trying to, like I said before, get it out, where he would actually miss. And you could actually see the canvas beneath the painting itself, where he would miss spots completely. Most anybody else I don't think would do that.”

Curtat, who has studied Van Gogh’s work closely, also said that the large scale of the Beyond Van Gogh experience provides viewers with the art in an entirely new light. There are no limits when it comes to doing the same with more artists in the future.

“For lot of people, museums can be intimidating. For a lot of people, it might be hard to relate and see what a 19th century artist has to bring to their lives. Maybe an experience like this feels more accessible and through this connection that they will have developed with Vincent, they'll be curious about seeing the real thing if they have a chance,” Curtat said. “It's about adding to the way we experience art, adding to the way we access the art world. Not taking anything away from it … hopefully it does that for many more artists and helps connect the dots between art audiences, between art institutions and between the public.”

Ready to see it for yourself?

The exhibit runs from Aug. 5 through Sept. 9 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday or 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Pensacola Interstate Fair, Building 6, 6655 Mobile Highway. There will be a cashless gift shop available for souvenir purchases as well.

Tickets must be purchased to attend the hour-long tour of the exhibit, ranging from $49.99 to $89.99 depending on the kind of perks you include. Tickets for children ages five to 15-years-old cost $28.99 and children under five can get in free. Music played in the exhibit can be found in their Spotify playlist at any time.

If you are late for the time on your ticket, staff for the exhibit cannot guarantee they will be able to accommodate you and refunds are not issued.

You can get more information at the exhibit's website

PNJ reporter Eddie Bunch contributed to this story.

Art brought to life: Take a peek inside Pensacola's Beyond Van Gogh experience (2024)
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