One of a number of immersive Van Gogh shows traveling around the country these days, “Beyond Van Gogh: An Immersive Experience” opens Friday, July 9 at the Wisconsin Center, 400 W. Wisconsin Ave., where it remains through Oct. 31.
(UPDATE: As of Aug. 2, more than 100,000 tickets had been sold for the show, making it the biggest selling event in the history of the Wisconsin Center.)
The show debuted earlier this year in Miami and expects to draw more than a million visitors in 2021 at 19 stops. More than 50,000 tickets have been sold in advance for the Milwaukee run.
"Beyond Van Gogh" was created by Director Mathieu St-Arnaud at Montreal’s Normal Studio, with a team that developed the narrative and music around the “thoughts and words” of Vincent Van Gogh, the tragic Dutch post-Impressionist known as much for his struggles with mental health – which have become legend – as for his turbulent works.
Some of those works, of course, are now cultural icons, reproduced on everything from posters to T-shirts to coffee mugs. The most famous, surely, is “Starry Night,” a swirling, ethereal vision of the night sky, though others, like "Sunflowers," "Portrait of Dr. Gachet," "Bedroom in Arles" are also instantly recognizable.
Indeed, Van Gogh's portraits, canvases of flowers and landscapes painted around Arles are among his most beloved works now.
This all despite the fact that Van Gogh was almost entirely ignored in his lifetime, except in the waning years when he finally began to be noticed favorably by other artists, critics and gallerists.
His work – much of which was created in the final years of his difficult life – didn’t become economically viable, however, until after his death in 1890 at the age of 37 when first his brother Theo, a gallery owner, and then his sister-in-law Johanna van Gogh-Bonger championed his paintings.
These days, some Van Gogh canvases are among the most valuable in the world, including the “Portrait of Dr. Gachet,” which set an auction sales record in 1990, fetching more than $82 million.
What you will NOT see at “Beyond Van Gogh” are these kinds of original works. If you're looking to connect with the artist by getting your eyes close to his brush strokes on canvases he touched with his very hands, you won't get that here.
Instead, the experience is a multimedia one that uses projection technology to insert you into those works in a way that almost no other experience can (except perhaps a visit to Arles).
“Van Gogh’s art comes to life by appearing and disappearing, flowing across multiple surfaces, and heightening the senses with their immense detail,” read an announcement for the show a few months ago.
“Through his own words set to a symphonic score, guests come to a new appreciation of this tortured artist’s stunning work. It’s a no surprise that millions of people all over the world credit Van Gogh with enhancing their relationship with art. Beyond Van Gogh will only deepen it further.”
The show begins with an Education Room that, as the name suggests, includes information on the artist and the major elements in his oeuvre. There are quotes and vignettes and more to add context to the artwork.
The Waterfall Room, uses cascades of color that morph and swirl into and out of familiar aspects of Van Gogh works, guiding visitors from the panels and frames of the Education Room into The Experience Room, where you step into the paintings and the mind of the artist.
Here more than 4 trillion pixels recreate some 300 Van Gogh works, including “The Starry Night,” “Sunflowers” and “Cafe Terrace at Night” while you’re bathed in a soundtrack that includes narration and music by Miles Davis and jazz guitarist Pat Metheny.
The experience in the projection space is quite remarkable, with images that gradually appear as if from the brush of the artist and then slowly change shape and color and drift along the walls, down on to the floors before transforming into something completely different.
Starry nights swirl and lily petals fall from flowers and blow around the space, engulfing you in color and movement.
Although organizers say a visit to the exhibition takes about one hour, I almost didn't want to leave. The visual and aural experience had an almost spa-like calming effect (sometimes in contrast with the emotional turbulence of the works).
The exhibit is open Sunday through Thursday from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m., as well as Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 11 p.m.
Adult Timed Entry (Adults 16+) tickets are $36.99 and Child Timed Entry (ages 5-15) tickets are $23.99. Student/Senior/Military Timed Entry (Valid ID required. Students up to age 25, Seniors 65 and older, and active military) tickets are $32.99.
There are also Flexible Entry (may arrive up to two hours before or after the start time indicated on your ticket, subject to exhibit opening hours) for $53.99 and VIP tickets (flexible entry, priority access to the exhibit and a merchandise package are $93.99.
All may be purchased online at VanGoghMilwaukee.com.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.