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Saturday, October 23, 2021
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Williamsville’s “Beyond Van Gogh” offers up an immersive and emotional experience

The innovative art exhibit transports visitors into the life and works of Vincent Van Gogh

Many visitors said the final section, the Immersive Experience Room, is their favorite exhibit in the gallery.
Many visitors said the final section, the Immersive Experience Room, is their favorite exhibit in the gallery.

From rippling waters to portraits formed from flowing colors, the Beyond Van Gogh exhibit in Williamsville’s Eastern Hills Mall offers visitors the opportunity to walk through a mesmerizing and animated version of Vincent Van Gogh’s life and works. 

The exhibit features an in-depth look at the artist’s career in three parts with the Education Room, the Waterfall Room and the Immersive Experience Room, where music and narrations of Van Gogh’s personal writings can be heard. 

The exhibit opened Aug. 20. Tickets start at $46.99 for adults; $28.99 for children; $41.99 for students, seniors and military members; $63.99 for flexible entries; and $93.99 for VIP entries.

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The Beyond Van Gogh exhibit in Williamsville offers visitors the opportunity to walk through a mesmerizing and animated version of Vincent Van Gogh’s life and works.

More than just a museum of immobile paintings, Beyond Van Gogh fosters a personal connection between the viewer and the exhibited art through a visual and auditory journey. 

“What I liked was that you really got to see [Van Gogh’s] ups and downs,” Laura Rivera Salgado, a UB student and psychology major, said. “Because all we [typically] see is the beauty of paintings, and all the famous ones, that sometimes you forget how much failure there was behind all of that success.”

Like other visitors, Rivera Salgado cites the Education Room, where Van Gogh’s story of failure and success is presented, as having deepened her appreciation for the artwork seen later in the gallery. In this first stage of the exhibit, visitors traverse a timeline of Van Gogh’s life, presented on panels consisting of biographical information and letters exchanged between the painter and his brother, Theo. 

Many visitors said the final section, the Immersive Experience Room, is their favorite exhibit in the gallery. With 32-foot tall ceilings, visitors are greeted by a projected 30-minute video loop that covers the walls and floors in Van Gogh artwork. Portraits blink, sketches are drawn in real time and flowers bloom across the room. 

“It was so much more than I could have ever imagined,” Emily Frey, a junior occupational therapy major, said. “It was very emotional. I didn’t expect that. It made you feel very raw for some reason and I didn’t expect that at all.”

Frey is not alone in her feelings about the exhibit.

“It’s not uncommon to see couples hugging, and holding hands, and seeing someone with tears,” David Taylor, the owner of Empire State Concerts and local event promoter for the exhibit, said. “It’s a moving exhibit, not just in the literal sense.”

Beyond provoking an emotional response, visitors also say this room helped connect them to the Dutch painter’s artwork through the simultaneous movement of the art and themselves. 

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“This is an interpretation [of Van Gogh’s work] where it pops to life,” Sarah Hedley, a visitor to the exhibit, said. “It puts you in and shows you specific parts that you may have missed in a static image.”

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The Immersion Experience Room offers visitors some time for relaxation and to simply admire the spectacle around them.

The emotional vibrancy felt while viewing this room had multiple visitors watching the video loop at least twice. For some, one run of the loop was dedicated to taking photos while another was used for deeper introspection and reflection. 

The Immersion Experience Room also offers visitors some time for relaxation and to simply admire the spectacle around them.

“Just turn your head, everywhere looking around, because that’s the point of immersion,” Rivera Salgada said.

Beyond Van Gogh has helped enrich the Buffalo art scene in light of disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the temporary closure of the Albright-Knox Gallery. By bringing artwork to life in such a powerful manner, the creators bring Western New Yorkers a moving portrait of Van Gogh’s life.

The exhibit is also a collaboration with Buffalo-based businesses including Ellicottville Brewing Co. and Black Willow Winery. Exhibit attendees can purchase limited-edition wines and beers, items Taylor has described as “lending itself to the art community.”

While originally  set to close in October, Taylor said the Van Gogh exhibit will be extended at least one month, due to the event’s overwhelmingly positive response, which included nearly 40,000 pre-sign ups. 

Buffalo will host similar exhibits in the future, but with different artists. Although unable to disclose which artist will be next, Taylor hints that immersive exhibits in Toronto such as the currently running Beyond Monet may indicate what’s to come. 

As Beyond Van Gogh captures the heart and imagination of thousands of Buffalo natives, visitors say they are excited for more. 

“It’s hopeful, in a weird way,” Frey said. “So if you’re hesitant about it, just go and be there in the moment.”

Kara Anderson is the assistant arts editor and can be reached at kara.anderson@ubspectrum.com 

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