AD | Gifted Experience - my visit to the Van Gogh Immersive Experience was complimentary in return for a review, but all opinions are my own.
Art isn’t usually my thing, I often find it a little boring and sometimes I just don’t get it. There are exceptions to this rule, for example when I visited the National Gallery in London I was absolutely mesmerised, especially by the HUGE works of art dating back many centuries. Thinking about the time it must have taken and the dedication given to creating those paintings kind of takes my breath away. So when I was invited to attend the Van Gogh Immersive Experience in York recently, I was intrigued… what would it be like to step inside such an important part of art history?
What is the Van Gogh Immersive Experience?
Running from July 2019 to January 2020, the exhibition transforms York St Mary’s Church into a 360 degree gallery where you can feel like you’re a part of Van Gogh’s paintings. The original paintings are projected onto the stone walls and high ceilings of the church and brought to life through clever animation whilst you relax in a deck chair and take in the 200 artworks in a 35 minute looped display.
There’s more too! As well as enjoying the main display, Van Gogh’s ‘Bedroom at Arles’ where he stayed for 14 months in the Provence countryside and which he famously painted has been recreated in the church. Once you’ve got your fill of the work and style of Van Gogh and begun to understand how he first started painting through sketches, notes and correspondence with his brother, you can have a go at your own creations in the hands-on art zone! Although this may have been designed for the younger audience (yes, I mean children), I had a fantastic time colouring in my own Van Gogh artwork before having it displayed on the wall!
Finally, there is also an optional VR experience where you can put on a headset and REALLY immerse yourself in the life of Van Gogh by walking through his bedroom, exploring the farmhouse in Arles and it’s surrounding area, watching the sun rise and set, and seeing Van Gogh transform his environment into works of art.
Tickets can be pre-booked for specific time slots, but you’re welcome to buy on the door as well. It costs £13 for adults, £11 for concessions and students, and £9 for children, with family tickets available for £38 as well. The VR experience is an extra £3 per person and well worth it! You can book tickets here.
What’s it Like?
If I had to describe the Van Gogh immersive experience in one word, I would actually say ‘relaxing’. Sitting in a comfortable deck chair whilst watching wheat sway in the breeze, stars swirl in the night sky and almond trees gently blossom around you whilst peaceful music plays in the background felt very much like being at a spa! The fact that the artwork was projected floor to (very high) ceiling all around you really did mean that you felt completed immersed in it, and as a result were able to switch off from the rest of the world and simply experience being there, in the present, admiring works of the past.
Whilst I’m talking about relaxation, it didn’t end there. The hands-on art zone provided another mindfulness opportunity as I focused far too hard on colouring in my own version of Van Gogh’s Starry Night… staying inside those lines isn’t an easy task!
Back to talking about the main exhibition, I was incredibly impressed by the projected animations. I was slightly concerned that animating such classic works of art could take away from their intended beauty, as I’m pretty sure Van Gogh had no intention of his work being animated, but it was done so well! The animation was subtle and felt natural, and it truly did bring Van Gogh’s work to life. Some were simple transitions from one piece to the next (for example Gogh’s self portraits), whilst at other times the paintings themselves moved. I particularly enjoyed ‘Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette’ as the skull nonchalantly took a drag of his (or her?) cigarette.
A part of the exhibition which I can’t decide whether I enjoyed or not was the VR experience. It was fantastically well done and I genuinely felt like I was following Van Gogh’s footsteps though rural life in Provence, gaining an insight into how he viewed his surroundings and how they inspired his work. However, I’m not sure that VR is for me! Not only did I feel a bit motion sick, I also felt quite vulnerable as my mind was transported to a different world but my body was still sat on a stool in York… what if someone in the real world touched me and it scared me to death?! Despite that, I would definitely recommend giving it a go, especially at the bargain price of £3.
In summary, I would highly recommend the Van Gogh Immersive Experience if you’re in or near York. It only takes about an hour, and will give you a whole new appreciation for Van Gogh and his work.
Making a Day of It – Things to Do in York
Before I leave, I thought I’d include a quick section on other things to do in York incase you’re visiting the Van Gogh exhibition and would like to make a day of it. I won’t go into too much detail here as I’ll be writing a full post about things to do in York soon, but here are some ideas for other things to do during your visit.
- The Shambles – no trip to York is complete without exploring around this narrow 14th century street. Originally an open-air slaughter house and meat market, it’s now home to a mix of restaurants and shops.
- Afternoon tea at Betty’s – we all need food to survive, but did you know that we actually need scones and tea (specifically Betty’s Tea Room Blend) to survive as well? Just be warned that if you visit at a peak time such as a weekend it’s likely that you’ll have to queue.
- York Minster – one of the largest cathedrals in Northern Europe and definitely worth a wander around.
- Jorvik Viking Centre – this is right next to the Van Gogh exhibition so perfect if you don’t want to venture too far!
- The York Dungeon – there’s a risk of sensory overload if you’re doing this and the Van Gogh Immersive Experience in one day, but its perfect for learning about 2,000 years of history through fun live show.
- York’s Chocolate Story – this interactive guided tour through the history of chocolate is perfect for chocolate lovers!
- City Walls – take a walk along the longest medieval town walls in England (3.4km).
- Clifford’s Tower – this is the largest remaining part of York castle and offers panoramic views over York.
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