Van Gogh experience puts visitors behind the eyes of artist himself

Immersive, 360 exhibit shows off the work and legacy of the artist.
People sit and watch the four-story animated projections during the exhibit, "Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience" at the Pratt-Pullman Yard in Atlanta. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Combined ShapeCaption
People sit and watch the four-story animated projections during the exhibit, "Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience" at the Pratt-Pullman Yard in Atlanta. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Entering the digitally-animated “Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience” is less like walking into a painting and more like stepping into an IMAX fever dream.

In a room the size of a railroad barn, painterly trains come and go, filling the interior with images of soft gray smoke.

Flowering almond trees shed their petals on the breeze, and reach to the sky, 40 feet above our heads.

Painted sailboats float on a bubbling Rhone River, as yellow stars whirl in the blue night sky. Walls melt. Water pools on the ground.

All these projected realities are recreated in the brushstrokes of the great post-impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh, and enlarged to a mammoth scale inside the renovated Pratt-Pullman Yard Building No. 1.

This section of the traveling exhibit, “Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience,” is the climax of a multi-media experience, with its super-boosted subwoofer sound effects and eye-popping writhing visuals. The show opened this month, and will run through Jan. 4, 2022.

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

In a strange confluence of events, it is one of several competing Van Gogh exhibits touring the U.S. simultaneously. It joins a trend of ‘immersive” shows, such as the recent exhibit of art from the Sistine Chapel, and the upcoming show of work by the street artist Banksy.

The producers of the experience seem to have tapped into a raging demand. Atlantans are crazy about Van Gogh. Some 200,000 have bought tickets to the experience, and many weeks of its eight-month run have been sold out.

“It’s a perfect storm,” said producer and creative director Mario Iacampo. “Digital art is becoming acceptable, and we’re coming out of COVID-19 and looking for something to do.”

A sample of comments on a recent hot Thursday afternoon at the former industrial site demonstrated that customers are willing to travel to enjoy the Van Gogh experience:

“It was worth the drive,” said a mother from Dalton who came with her daughter. “I was skeptical, but it was cool.”

“It was more intense than I thought it would be,” said a Cleveland, Georgia, woman accompanied by three teenagers

“Amazing, breathtaking really,” said one of a trio of art students from SCAD, who attended together.

Not everyone loves the show. Tom Meyer, an Atlanta photographer, called it “the Disneyfication of a transformative genius in an IKEA format.”

A native of Canada who lives in Brussels, Iacampo began his career creating special effects for such musicians as Michael Jackson, Pink Floyd and Rush. He gravitated toward producing his own shows, and in 2011 brought “Cavalia” to Atlanta, a Cirque-like production that paired acrobatics with beautiful horses.

“I always like things bigger than life,” he said, during a visit to the Pratt-Pullman Yard, in Kirkwood, near Toomer Elementary School.

A steady stream of cars pulled into the gravel parking area fronting a collection of rusting historic structures once used as warehouses and manufacturing facilities.

The first rooms of the 20,000-square-foot exhibition space include oversized reproductions of Van Gogh’s most iconic work and a life-size three-dimensional recreation of the painting “Bedroom in Arles,” with its humble furniture and skewed perspective.

The centerpiece of the show is the 35-minute animated digital presentation in the enormous main room, tracing Van Gogh’s artistic development through to its melancholy end in a former monastery turned asylum.

The artist was 37 years old and suffering from depression when he apparently shot himself in the chest and died from a subsequent infection.

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Following that section visitors can color their own versions of Van Gogh paintings or, for an additional $5, take a virtual reality trip through the streets of Arles, as if staring through the eyes of the artist himself.

Visitors are required to wear masks, and the timed tickets are intended to allow no more than 175-to-190 people in the exhibit at once.

Iacampo said that number may increase as the pandemic winds down, but he added that the producers intend to preserve the unhurried “zen” experience of sitting in chairs in the main room as the digital projectors surround visitors with the sights and sounds of Van Gogh’s life and work.


“Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience”

May 19-Jan. 4, 2022. Daily except Tuesdays, 10 a.m. - 10 p.m. weekdays; 9 a.m. - 11 p.m. weekends and holidays; $32.20; children: $19.10; Pratt-Pullman Yard, Building No. 1, Rogers Street, Atlanta.

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