A paint splotch begins to spread over a projection of Vincent Van Gogh’s painting The Starry Night at ‘Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience.’ Credit: Nancy Chaney
After the initial hype, a whiff of scandal and a long wait, “Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience” has finally opened in Seattle. Think of the show as a dynamic digital art display — with music — that showcases Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh’s life and most famous artworks. It’s open now and runs through April 2022.
The show’s opening comes at a time when families may be seeking a new and different experience, something beautiful and escapist. “Van Gogh” certainly fits that bill, but at around $125 for a family of four, is it worth the splurge?
Best aspects for families
“Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience” is pretty neat. Art museums generally present static displays in silent rooms — not really where you want to take your noisy, wiggly kids. But at “Van Gogh,” nearly everything moves. Viewers can move around, too. There’s classical music (with some narration) playing. It’s nice to listen to and will also drown out any chattering children.
Another plus for kids: Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings are not abstract. He used intense colors and painted subjects kids can understand: his bedroom, the night sky, his own face.
In the first set of galleries, visitors view digital productions of some of Van Gogh’s paintings. There are a few 3-D displays as well. The most interesting is an almost life-size model of Van Gogh’s yellow bedroom from his time living in Arles, France. You can actually go in and sit on his bed and take a selfie. (One note: This small spot seems likely to get crowded.)
The second area — where you’ll spend the bulk of your time — is the immersive gallery. Grab a chair, or wander around, and experience Van Gogh’s works in what you might call "surround-view." Images are projected in 360 degrees around a large room.
Paintings appear with digitally added movement; the wheat sways in the wind, a cart drives across the field. The stars move and twinkle. At times paint seems to spill and spread across art works; another time it appears to rain. I found it fun and entrancing.
The program in the immersive room lasts 35 minutes and plays on a loop; you can enter and leave at any time. In my view, some kids may be unlikely to want to sit for the entire 35 minutes, even if they initially find the show engaging.
For seating, there are benches and beach-style chairs that allow visitors to lean back.
The third and final area is a large hands-on art station where kids (and adults) can take a coloring sheet of one of Van Gogh’s paintings and color it with provided crayons. Once you finish, you can scan your sheet and see it projected on the wall. The scanner enhances the colors and makes your crayon coloring look more like Van Gogh’s paints.
More ways to spend
The fourth area houses an add-on virtual reality experience. Pay $5 extra (or book a VIP ticket; more on that below), and don a VR headset for a 10-minute "walk" around Arles. (I tried it and felt motion sick after just a few minutes; consider this before plunking down your $5.) You’ll see some of the places and subjects that Van Gogh painted. Headsets and stations are sanitized between guests.
Finally, you guessed it, you’ll come to the gift shop where you can buy Van Gogh’s paintings emblazoned on everything from a yoga mat ($70) to a Rubik’s Cube ($32) to a facemask ($18). You can’t help but wonder what ol’ Vincent himself would think of his art catching sweat from a vigorous series of sun salutations.
The bottom line
“Van Gogh” is fun and suitable for all ages. It’s also pretty short — the website advises that the experience will take an hour to an hour and 15 minutes — but I think 30–45 minutes is more likely for some families with younger kids. Each family’s interest in art, comfort with an indoor show and, obviously, budget, will determine if it’s right for them.
Parents should know
Masks are required for ages 5 and older. There are no concessions so there should be no reason for anyone to remove their mask.
Proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test within 72 hours are required for guests ages 12 and older. Kids ages 11 and younger are not required to present a negative COVID test.
As mentioned, the show’s website suggests planning for 60–75 minutes; depending on how long you linger in the immersive gallery and your family’s appetite for coloring in the art room will determine how long you actually stay.
There is a strobe warning for the immersive gallery, and while there are dramatic lighting changes, I did not notice anything flashing or intense; the experience seemed fine for all but the most sensitive groups.
While capacity is limited, expect the lightest crowds during the day on weekdays.
There are restrooms on site and the venue is accessible.
If you go...
When: “Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience” is on now and runs through April 2022. Timed-entry tickets are available on the half-hour on weekdays except for Tuesdays, 10 a.m.–8 p.m., and Saturday, Sunday and holidays, 9 a.m.–9 p.m.
Where: The venue was initially announced as “secret” and finally revealed after the show’s opening was delayed. The show takes place in a warehouse in SODO just south of the stadiums at 1750 Occidental Ave. S., Seattle. The building is painted bright blue and is easy to spot.
Ticket prices: The cost of this show may rule it out for some families even if they’re intrigued by the subject and presentation. Ticket prices vary by peak (generally weekends and weekday evenings) and non-peak (weekdays during the day) times. Buy online.
VIP tickets: Pay an extra 20 bucks or so on top of regular tickets prices, and you can skip the line upon entry, do the VR experience and take home a Van Gogh poster.
Parking: Pay lots in the area advertised $5 parking on a weekday morning visit; expect to pay higher prices evenings and weekends. There is some street parking nearby. Avoid Seahawks or Sounders game days, and other stadium events.