Van Gogh Alive – Edinburgh

“I am seeking, I am striving, I am in it with all my heart

Van Gogh Alive, billed as ‘the most visited immersive multi-sensory experience in the world’, is beginning its four-month run in Edinburgh’s Festival Square, Lothian Road.

The immersive exhibition is fundamentally a walk-through sound and light show. Giant screens project Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings, and extracts from his letters, onto the walls and floors of the purpose-built venue. A digital sound system accompanies the changing images, with classical musical scores ranging from Vivaldi to Debussy to Erik Satie.

In a loose biography of the Dutch Master, the timeline moves through the Netherlands, Arles, Saint Rémy and Auvers-sur-Oise. It’s beautiful, turbulent – and often strangely familiar, as you find yourself at the centre of starry Provençal nights and sunflower bouquets.

It’s very different to viewing the artist’s paintings first hand, and purists may wonder at transforming his work into an entertainment show – some of the most famous works are even animated – but there’s no doubt that Van Gogh’s use of perspective and vivid colours are made for this type of exhibition. In its constantly changing pace, too, it suggests an insight into his state of mind throughout his short life

The ‘performance’ has a run time of about 45-minutes. Wrapped around it is a recreation of Van Gogh’s famous bedroom in Arles (step in and take a selfie for posterity) and the tiny Sunflower room, in which clever use of mirrors suggests you’re in an infinite field of the yellow flowers. Children can paint their own masterpieces in a final room of paper and easels.

What would Van Gogh himself think? ‘Some day death will take us to another star’, he once said, and it’s certainly prophetic in his case. In his lifetime, the artist was troubled by the lack of interest in his work, yet Grande Exhibitions has been on tour with Van Gogh Alive for more than a decade, seeing 75 cities and 8.5 million visitors, to date. It’s a bittersweet thought.

In practical terms, standing for nearly an hour might be too much for some people, although the venue is listed as fully accessible (so there probably are a few chairs hidden somewhere, if required). We had the luxury of being two of half a dozen visitors, so I’m not sure how it would be at busy times – tickets are released in half hour slots, presumably to keep numbers manageable and Covid-safe. And on the issue of tickets, it’s not cheap at £24, full price.

That aside, this is an exhibition I’ve long wanted to see, and it really felt like ‘time-out’, something magical on an ordinary afternoon.

BSL and Audio described sessions are available.

Running between March 17th – July 17th 2022 at Festival Square, Lothian Road

Information and tickets at:  

Photographs courtesy of Nichole Marsh

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