Review: 'Immersive Van Gogh Detroit' invites patrons to be participants

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

The beauty of Detroit's newest immersive Van Gogh experience isn't just being able to step inside impressionist master Vincent Van Gogh's bold, expressive paintings. It's being able to experience them from multiple vantage points.

"Immersive Van Gogh Detroit," which finally opened last week in the city's former Harmonie Club after two headache-inducing delays, includes two galleries with floor-to-ceiling projections that sweep visitors up inside.

The “Immersive Van Gogh Detroit” exhibit, gallery 2 on mezzanine level 3 at the Harmonie Club in Detroit.

Both galleries project the same images of Van Gogh's iconic work as it moves, swirls and changes, but one gallery is smaller and more intimate with mirrored columns that also reflect the paintings, while the other is large and open with projections even on the floor. It also has a mezzanine to experience it all from another angle.

"You're a participant in the experience," said producer Svetlana Dvoretsky, a producer with Lighthouse Immersive, which has put on "Immersive Van Gogh" in nearly 20 cities across the country, including Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.

And the exhibit isn't meant to be experienced sitting down, said Dvoretsky, though both galleries have benches. She said it's meant to be seen walking around the galleries to see it all from different angles, or even sitting on the floor, to really take in Van Gogh's work. 

"You see different details," she said.

Dvoretsky said opening "Immersive Van Gogh Detroit" hasn't been easy. Producers struggled to find the right venue and then the Omicron variant was another complication. Originally scheduled to open last fall and then in February, the two delays frustrated and angered local ticket-holders, 20% of whom asked for refunds.

The “Immersive Van Gogh Detroit” exhibit, gallery 2 on mezzanine level 3 at the Harmonie Club in Detroit.

But now, with the exhibit finally open (see box below for details on how to obtain tickets and how long it'll be in Detroit), Dvoretsky hopes patrons will think it was worth the wait. She said 5 million people have already seen it in cities across the country.

And the exhibit is certainly gorgeous and moving. It covers 200,000 cubic square feet of space at the former Harmonie Club and incorporates six miles of cable and 47 projectors. The "program" runs for 35 minutes, bringing to life Van Gogh masterpieces such as "The Potato Eaters," "Starry Night," "Sunflowers," "Café Terrace at Night," "Almond Blossoms," and "The Bedroom."

In the smaller gallery, called Gallery No. 1, mirrored columns and a vinyl black floor almost make visitors feel like they're moving as the projected paintings change (be aware if you're prone to motion sickness).

Mirrored columns inside Gallery No. 1 at "Immersive Van Gogh Detroit" invite the viewer inside his works even more.

Dvoretsky said the mirrored columns, which stand at different heights, are a new addition to Lighthouse Immersive's exhibits since last summer, added at the direction of Tony Award-nominated designer David Korins who is now part of their creative team. He calls them a mirrored "forest."

And just as the previous immersive Van Gogh experience in Detroit, "Beyond Van Gogh," really added an interactive element to the Dutch painter's work, the same goes for "Immersive Van Gogh Detroit." Clouds move across the sky, waves ripple, windmills churn and petals blow in the wind. The new exhibit, however, doesn't include many of Van Gogh's self-portraits.

A soundtrack, meanwhile, only enhances the experience. Featuring a mix of classical music, a highlight is French star Edith Piaf's "Non, je ne regrette rien" as a Van Gogh sun rises across the sky. 

As the exhibit was being developed, Dvoretsky said digital master Massimiliano Siccardi worked side-by-side with multimedia composer Luca Longobardi. She said music is integral to the experience.

l-r, Drew, 58, and his wife Carol, 57, Sturgeon of Canton, observes the “Immersive Van Gogh Detroit” exhibit, gallery 1 on level 2 at the Harmonie Club in Detroit.

Another benefit to the entire experience is the gorgeous 38,000-square-foot Harmonie Club, which has so much more character than Huntington Place (the former TCF Center where "Beyond Van Gogh" was held last year. Originally opened in 1895, it's like its own art exhibit in terms of its architecture and moldings. 

Project Manager Mackenzie Kern said Lighthouse worked with the building's landlords for several months, restoring hardwood floors, replacing carpeting, painting and doing other updates to bring the building, which happened been occupied in a couple of years, back to life. 

Now, even after "Immersive Van Gogh Detroit" closes in September, it'll continue you on with a new immersive art experience, this one featuring the work of famed Austrian painter Gustav Klimt.

Immersive art experiences that incorporate digital projections and other technology are likely here to stay.

"I think we're just at the beginning," said Dvoretsky.

'Immersive Van Gogh Detroit'

Open now through Sept. 5 at the former Harmonie Club, 311 E. Grand Blvd.

Tickets start at $39.99

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