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Montreal's New Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit Is Now Open & Totally Mesmerizing (FIRST LOOK)

You become part of the art in this interactive show 🌀

MTL Blog, Associate Editor
A person sits on a bench at the Van Gogh exhibit. Right: People walk around the exhibit in Montreal.

A person sits on a bench at the Van Gogh exhibit. Right: People walk around the exhibit in Montreal.

It's impossible not to see movement in the sweeping strokes of Vincent Van Gogh's masterpieces. Montreal's new downtown OASIS Immersion exhibit, Van Gogh: Distortion brings that motion to life, exchanging paint for pixels in three massive floor-to-ceiling light shows at the Palais de Congres.

I was skeptical about just how immersive the experience would be, but the show merges the maestro's magic with new technology, bringing his 19th-century works into the current millenium.

The show makes for a perfect rainy day activity. You can experience all types of artistically-rendered weather while comfortably seated inside.

The fluffy rain clouds of Van Gogh's landscapes seem to pass overhead until suddenly you're immersed in the sunshine and bright yellows of his iconic sunflowers, projected at such a scale that you can see the brushwork.

The texture of all the artworks is high resolution, only pixelated when you look too closely, much like walking up to a painting and seeing the strokes. You even become part of the canvas, as vibrant projections bounce beams of light over you.

Each part of the exhibit offers a different way to see the painter in a sensory experience that lasts around 60 minutes. Visitors can move about or sit on the different seating in each room (chosen to compliment the ambiance).

The first room features monochromatic projections, not only introducing visitors to the man behind the art, but also the show's unique style. Excerpts of letters between Van Gogh and his brother are interspersed with projections of his early sketches to give an intimate first glimpse at the painter, and what may have inspired his most famous works.

The scratching sounds of a fountain pen on paper accompany the visuals, with versions of highlight quotes shown in English and French on opposite walls. Curved black stone benches wind through the open space, connected by a floor path overlaid with changing projections that invite visitors to follow along.

Looking at the exhibit in a projection room with dark benches.Looking at the exhibit in a projection room with dark benches.@davidwallyrawalia | Instagram

After passing through a short hallway, visitors enter a second room, similar in size to the first, but with more abstract visuals.

Original compositions deconstruct parts of Van Gogh's artistic style, inspired by his preferred colour palette and the shape of his strokes, to make entirely new creations. The room explores what it might be like if Van Gogh had made a multimedia work of his own.

While visually striking, this part of the show was too conceptual to be self-explanatory. The repetitive digital shapes also seemed too geometric, bouncing around like an early 2000s Windows screen saver, to capture the sweeping curves that characterize Van Gogh's style.

The pulsating patterns did give the optical illusion that the floor was liquid at certain points, which was disorienting and could cause motion sickness for more sensitive viewers.

An abstract projection at the exhibit.An abstract projection at the exhibit.@davidwallyrawalia | Instagram

More than twice as big as the other two rooms, the final gallery is the crowning achievement of the whole show. The floor-to-ceiling projections not only immerse viewers in scenes from Van Gogh's paintings but also double as a virtual art gallery.

At times, it's like designers took a microscope to Van Gogh's work, pulling out details and creating full environments with the parts. Clouds from his daytime landscape paintings float around the room, tiny painted birds fly overhead, and flowers burst from the corners of the room. Repetition of certain elements calls attention to details that might not otherwise be noticeable, like the pattern inside of a sunflower or around a glowing star.

Each montage breaks down pieces of Van Gogh's most beloved works, so it's fun trying to identify which original painting they come from.

The final projection room at the Van Gogh exhibit.The final projection room at the Van Gogh exhibit.@davidwallyrawalia | Instagram

People usually think of classical music in relation to classical artists, but during this part of the show, creators paired iconic works with contemporary music and it felt like synchronizing both visual and aural senses.

My favourite part of the whole exhibit featured Starry Night over the Rhône projected on the walls, with a water effect on the floor, and Miles Davis' soothing trumpet playing over the surround sound. Organizers explained that the painting and the musical score evoke the same feeling so it was natural to pair them together.

Depending on where you stand in the main room, the music and sound effects ebb and flow. Standing closer to the walls, it sounded like the water was hitting a dock. Moving back, it audibly sloshed around.

During each scene, the floor reacts to movement differently, much like the sparkling path guide showing you where to go in a video game. In this case, however, the floor is reacting to you as you move through the space.

In one scene, branches burst with blossoms before shedding their petals. The digital debris floats to the floor and you can shuffle it away with your feet. At first, I sat on one of the seats contemplating the visual elements, but the longer I stayed in the main room, the more I wanted to wander around and explore how I could interact with the projections.

Movement is constant but subtle throughout the whole show. During one part that features Van Gogh's many self-portraits, details are highlighted in small bursts. Faces blink and pipes emit wafts of smoke making them seem more human. Some of the animations are so discreet that if you blink, you might miss them.

Van Gogh is the perfect artist for this sort of exhibition because his works already imbue movement. Through technology, OASIS Immersion have brought those elements in his work to life. The exhibition is an enchanting, must-see homage to the classic painter.

Van Gogh - Distortion

Opens April 28

Where: Palais des congrès de Montréal, 301 rue Saint-Antoine O., Montreal, QC
(Entrance at the corner of rue Saint-Antoine and Place Jean-Paul-Riopelle)

Tickets: $32 Adults, $26 Students

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