Amid power outages, fires, a heatwave, and with a cross-national Stop Asian Hate protest right outside the venue, the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit weathered its first weekend on the West Coast as well as any native San Franciscan. After months of tantalizing posters featuring the artist’s self-portrait against a backdrop of city landmarks, the ribbon was cut and doors opened to the public last Thursday. With the Chicago installation currently sold out until mid-June, more than 120,000 tickets have already been purchased for the new ‘Fran Gogh’ experience—now extended into September to accommodate the highest presales yet for the travelling show. Since even the largest HD TVs tend to underwhelm after a year in lockdown, thousands of Bay Area art-lovers are clearly jonesing for a more impactful way to experience media.
As it has in Paris, Toronto, and Chicago so far, the Van Gogh exhibit adapts itself to each venue it’s transplanted into by taking on characteristics of these historic spaces. Custom-designed to SVN West—formerly home to the Fillmore West and Carousel Ballroom where legends like Aretha Franklin, Miles Davis, Fleetwood Mac, Elton John, B.B. King and the Grateful Dead have played—120 visitors per showing will have 100,000 square feet to socially distance in. Along with 500,000 cubic feet of projection space to experience the immersive exhibit as if from a seafloor fifty feet underwater. Similar to previous installations, the SF installation also features a mirrored, one-story platform where visitors can vary their perspective on the projections.
Conceived and designed by Massimiliano Siccardi, the exhibit boasts high-definition brushstrokes and vibrant colours rendered by art director Vittorio Guidotti. Simultaneously, audiences will be drenched in a saturated surround-soundscape curated and composed by Luca Longobardi. Visitors can expect their cavernous collaboration to play the hits: Starry Night, Sunflowers, and The Potato Eaters, while featuring many of Van Gogh’s more obscure drawings and daubings in collages that traverse the space in layered landscapes. Musical selections ranging from Edith Piaf to Mussorgsky colour the vivid paintings even more brightly, but many of his original compositions are as detailed, tense, and exacting as the famously self-critical painter himself. The thick, plush sound design is as palpable a dimension as each of the four walls, evoking the turmoil of Van Gogh’s struggle with mental illness.