After a brief tease and a couple of false starts, “Immersive Van Gogh” has finally hit Hollywood with animated projections of the artist’s recognizable paintings like Bedroom in Arles and The Starry Night. That’s basically how you could describe any of the five similar shows touring the country right now, but this one, from Lighthouse Immersive and Impact Museums, certainly sells the loudest take on the Dutch painter.
“Immersive Van Gogh” is inhabiting Amoeba Music’s former Sunset Boulevard record store through at least the beginning of 2022 with three main rooms, all covered with pieces of the same 35-minute loop that plays out across 65 projectors: a small entry area with reflective sculptures in the center, a spacious main room with distancing circles on the ground and mirrors wrapped around the interior columns, and a balcony with a slender, unbroken band of the projection show that seems built for posing.
Tickets cost $40 to $55 depending on what day or time you visit, before any fees, upgrades or parking fees—and if you completely lose interest after that price reveal, we really don’t blame you. If you don’t care about filling your camera roll and simply want to admire Van Gogh’s art and learn about his life, go see Irises at the Getty for free or the five or so works on display at the Norton Simon. But inevitably, “Immersive Van Gogh’s” selfie toll will be one that many Angelenos feel comfortable footing (and already have, judging by the line around the block as we left Wednesday’s media preview).
You can probably thank/blame Emily in Paris for the barrage of these Van Gogh shows cashing in on public domain images, and L.A.’s “Immersive” actually boasts a connection to the one featured in the Netflix series: Massimiliano Siccardi, who shared a director credit on the French exhibit, oversaw this traveling installation.
Those couple of minutes of Emily in Paris screen time pitch a swirling, tranquil affair fit for romance and relaxation. But that’s not really the vibe of “Immersive Van Gogh.” To metaphorically borrow some Van Gogh iconography, we expected to go in and admire a vase of sunflowers, but instead it felt like having a wheelbarrow full of sunflowers flung in our face. The looping animation resembles a half-hour music video that’s constantly vying for your attention with shifting landscapes, bursts of brushstrokes and an absolutely blaring soundtrack that trades off between Thom Yorke, Édith Piaf, blown out ambient sounds and droning choral motifs. Sure, it’s all asking you to appreciate the pretty paintings—and it goes all in on this—but from its “Vincent” title cards to its dramatic fades-to-black, “Immersive Van Gogh” also seems to demand that you appreciate its vision, and not just Van Gogh’s.
We scoped out the conceptually similar “Beyond Van Gogh” in Anaheim last month, and it’s tough to resist constantly comparing the two. But to keep it brief, “Beyond” progresses at a relaxed pace and lets mostly faithful, wall-sized translations of the paintings linger for a bit. “Immersive” always keeps moving and leans much more into cutting up and reassembling its source material. The Anaheim one sounds like Fantasia, the Hollywood one sounds like a perfume ad. Ultimately, they both feel like screensavers: “Beyond” like a slide show with animated transitions, “Immersive” with the energy of those old flying starfield and 3-D pipes ones. In a cottage industry of copycats, “Immersive” inevitably comes away feeling like the cool one, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s always better.
On the other hand, “Immersive Van Gogh” rises above its local competitor for going all in on the start-to-finish experience. There’s a sunflower mural and “find beauty everywhere” sign on the exterior, and once inside things kick off with a very Insta-room-esque pre-show area with a neon Starry Night-inspired ceiling, an oversized self portrait carved in relief, a sunflower-adorned coffee and pastry bar, a faux post-impressionist recreation of the Hollywood Sign, and an AI installation that lets you write notes back and forth with the prolific letter writer. (There’s also a green glowing parlor in homage to the artist’s destructive relationship with absinthe, which is, uh, certainly a choice.) And that’s all before you even enter the main projection space.
As for the projection rooms, we’d suggest moving around between them to change up your perspective. On the other hand, you’ll see the same animations in all three so feel free to just stick to a single cushion and distancing circle without worrying about missing anything. Speaking of the space, regulars of Amoeba’s original location will immediately recognize the building’s bones: You enter into what used to be the T-shirt section and walk through a frame where the stage once stood into the cavernous main space, with the columns covered up by mirrored panels. Toward the back (or what used to be the front of Amoeba), you’ll still find that stairs that lead to a balcony that once housed rows of DVDs.
So is “Immersive Van Gogh” worth it? You saw what we said up top about pricing, right? Take a look at the rest of our photos below and decide if that $40-plus price tag justifies capturing these for yourself.