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HomeFeaturesMumbai meets Van Gogh 360—'lovely', 'gimmicky', 'underwhelming', 'powerpoint'

Mumbai meets Van Gogh 360—’lovely’, ‘gimmicky’, ‘underwhelming’, ‘powerpoint’

Van Gogh 360° is an immersive 3D exhibition of 300 paintings of the 19th century Dutch artist that has made its India debut with its first stop in Mumbai.

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Five-year-old Aryav Shukla wasn’t quite prepared for the treat waiting for him. He was about to enter Vincent Van Gogh’s painting. He watched spellbound as a crescent moon slowly made its way up. Then, one by one, stars emerged like luminous fireballs, followed by the hues of the night sky—purple and blue with strokes of white and glints of yellow—with dark shadowy trees, until the whole room is full of the views and feels of Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘The Starry Night.’

Aryav ran to his mother Shruti and told her that he wants to practise painting ‘The Starry Night’ once he is home.

This is a fraction of the experience at Van Gogh 360°, an immersive exhibition of the works of the 19th century Dutch artist that made its India debut last month with its first stop at Mumbai’s World Trade Centre. The exhibit is a three-dimensional experience of 300 paintings of Van Gogh, projected on all four walls of the room as well as on the floor, so that patrons can not just see but feel his art, taking every single element in as the first painting merges into the next.

“Before getting my son here, I showed him some videos on Van Gogh for him to feel a little connected to his paintings. ‘The Starry Night’ and ‘Sunflowers’ is what he knows about,” Shruti said. “I think it’s a good experience, it’s lovely. It’s something that’s new. People should come and try it out,” she added.

People watching The Starry Night at the Van Gogh 360 exhibition at Arcade Shopping Centre, World Trade Centre in Mumbai | Photo: Manasi Phadke/ThePrint

The exhibition, which started on 20 January, has been drawing a steady crowd despite a fairly steep ticket price from Rs 999 to Rs 1,399 per person. The visitors are a motley mix of art students, connoisseurs, couples, young parents wanting to expose their children to art, and bloggers wanting to create social media content with Van Gogh’s backdrops. The exhibition will run in Mumbai till 19 March, and in Gurugram’s DLF Cybercity from 10 April to 30 April.

“We have been getting almost 1,500 visitors every day on weekdays. On weekends, this number crosses 2,000. We are letting people inside in slots so that there isn’t any crowding and visitors can leisurely soak in the experience,” a person from the ticketing partner stationed at the entry said, requesting anonymity.

Shruti heard about Van Gogh 360° from a friend in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) where the exhibition Van Gogh Alive is currently on.

“My mother is an artist. She paints, doesn’t sell… does it just as a hobby. So I have seen beautiful paintings at home, but this is the first time I have come to an exhibition. It’s a very different experience,” Shruti said.

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The Van Gogh experience 

The exhibit starts with information on Van Gogh’s life and art, after which visitors move to the next room for the immersive experience of a series of celebrated paintings, the highlights being ‘The Starry Night’, the ‘Sunflower‘ series, ‘Almond Blossom’, ‘Girl in White’, ‘Irises’, ‘The Noon’, ‘Van Gogh’s Chair’ and so on.

The narrative in the section on Van Gogh’s life is succinct, with words carefully picked to bring alive the person. The slides talk about why he painted what he painted, his struggle with his mental health, his time at a psychiatric hospital, his warm relationship with his brother Theo, and his feeling of worthlessness despite his artistic brilliance for which perhaps the world was not ready during his time. And finally, his death by suicide in a vivid wheat field.

For a novice, it is definitely enriching, but even for those more well versed in art, the slides put Van Gogh’s technique and some of his paintings into perspective.

For example, the man known for self-portraits painted himself not because of a narcissistic streak, but because he did not have the money to pay models for him to practise portrait art and improve his skill and technique. Inside the next room, which is the immersive experience, a projection of all of his 35 self-portraits all at once is a stark reminder of this fact.

Another interesting fact is that the greens and yellows in many of Van Gogh’s paintings, logically out of place but strikingly enhancing the beauty of his work, could perhaps be attributed to the drug that he was being treated with.

During his stay at the psychiatric facility Saint-Paul asylum in France, Van Gogh is said to have been given digitalis, a drug obtained from the dried leaves of the foxglove plant.

“What is so interesting about that obscure point is that people who are administered large and repeated doses of digitalis often see the world with a green-yellow tint,” one of the slides about Van Gogh’s life at the exhibit says, offering patrons a fresh window to his technique.

Some of the floor-to-ceiling projections seem more real than others. The ‘Sunflowers’, for instance, fill up the whole room, twirling and swaying.

During the projection of ‘The Starry Night’, a doleful darkness fills the room, accentuating the contrasting beauty of the luminous night sky, and offering a glimpse into the artists’ mind when he painted it at the French asylum in June 1889.

Maahi Doshi and Aashna Sharma, both ninth-standard students, are among the many sprawled on the floor, their eyes glued to the wall.

“We are in the process of studying Van Gogh’s art in school and found this exhibition to be very informative,” Maahi said.

“We have read about Van Gogh, but this (exhibit) is a very new experience. We have been sitting here for at least half an hour,” Aashna said.

Also read: Why are women artists disappearing from museums? ‘Lack’ of works is a lie

One of a kind, but underwhelming’

The one problem with Van Gogh 360° is that the immersive experience makes for great pictures. The floor to ceiling, three-dimensional projections look grander and more real through a camera lens than to the naked eye. And after a month of seeing social media posts about Van Gogh 360° from those who visited the exhibit in its early days, a few who are queuing up only now are leaving a tad bit disappointed.

“I love art, especially Van Gogh and his impact on the art world. We don’t get a lot of art exhibitions of this level, so we thought let’s check it out,” Divij Pawar, who works as an engineer, said.

“But personally, it is a little bit underwhelming than what I had anticipated. It’s one of a kind for sure though,” he added.

Some were also distracted by crowds clicking pictures and videos.

“It ruined the experience for others,” said Harsh Dave, a chartered accountant. “Also, the exhibition looked gimmicky. As if it is a power-point presentation. It didn’t live up to my expectations,” he added.

Sunaina Patil, Pawar’s sister, who accompanied him to the exhibit, agrees that it could have been better, but added that it’s still a big deal.

“After all, something like this is happening in Mumbai for the first time,” she said.

(Edited by Prashant)

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