Sunday, July 14

Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience – Exhibition Centre Liverpool

Billed as the UK premiere, Annerin Productions’ Beyond Van Gogh arrives in Liverpool as an immersive experience of over 300 masterpieces including three more renowned images – The Starry Night; Sunflowers; and Café Terrace at Night.

As much as I enjoy art, Liverpool’s Exhibition Centre isn’t a curated gallery – nor does it claim to be – and equally the event itself is clear that this is very much about artwork freed from its frames rather than any original pieces, so any assessment is based two-fold on the experience itself and the extent to which it enlightens its audience, serving as an introduction to art.

There is a winding route from entrance which sets out a simplified backstory to Van Gogh with a hint of his work in the background, designed as an appetiser to the main event whilst serving as a useful means of crowd control. Whilst informative, there was some notable false narrative designed I daresay to contribute to the hype which runs the risk of backfiring when one finally encounters the work in question.

I had anticipated a series of rooms and experiences but there is in fact only one, although a notable proportion of work is represented, and one is encouraged to dwell with seating available although I comfortably stood throughout the evening.

Upon arrival, we were presented with an array of Van Gogh’s lesser known portraiture and still life works which make up much of the exhibition, I daresay due to copyright issues. These are augmented by a number of better-known self-portraits and more popular images that we are probably more aware of from their use in marketing than the originals themselves.

I had anticipated a fully immersive 3-D experience within an enclosed space but here the accompanying wall projections were 2-D albeit animated and colourised in some instances, adding some novelty and interest, but without a ceiling, one’s eyes were inevitably drawn towards a less appetising overhead view of building services. It’s a shame because so much more could have been achieved with a little more effort. As an immersive experience, I would have hoped to have been within the picture and able to look around within it, even perhaps able to move through the door of one picture into a different scene akin to a VR experience and whilst that was not possible here, the opportunity to align the projections with actual door openings could have been achieved with a bit of thought. What we are left with are a series of intriguing moving images across a flat surface but without the richness, colour, shapes, depth, and textures that one experiences from seeing an original.

Putting that dampener to one side, does it serve as an introduction to Van Gogh and art in general? Well, that has to be a resounding yes, and if as an experience it can encourage visitors to seek out some original Van Gogh or to discover similar work or just to explore art in general and find an artist or genre that resonates with them, then it has well and truly served a purpose. If it could direct visitors to at least two of the wonderful art galleries as good as on its doorstep – Tate Liverpool and The Walker Art Gallery – which both offer an eclectic mix in their own right to satisfy all tastes, then even better.

Beyond Van Gogh runs at Liverpool’s Exhibition Centre from 27th June with additional dates added and its run extended through to 24th July due to demand with apparently some 30,000 tickets already having sold. Further details including booking

Reviewer: Mark Davoren

Reviewed: 26th June 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.