It’s not really fair to describe the Original Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit as simply akin to walking into the paintings of the 19th-century post-impressionist. It’s much cooler than that.
The exhibit, which opens on Oct. 21 on Pittsburgh’s North Shore inside an enormous warehouse, surrounds its audience with massive animated images based on the work of the Dutch master, accompanied by a soundtrack that pairs perfectly with shooting stars or sprouting irises or a rising sun. It’s a trippy ride.
“Most people have not seen art or entertainment in this way before, where you are stepping into the artist’s work, you’re surrounded by the artist’s work, it is projected onto the walls and onto the floor and you’re fully immersed in the experience, from the moment you walk in until the moment you leave,” said Mark Shedletsky, a Jewish serial entrepreneur in Los Angeles, and one of the founders of Impact Museums, an operating partner for the exhibit. “It’s quite a unique way of experiencing art.”
The exhibit was conceived and designed by Massimiliano Siccardi, with a soundtrack by Luca Longobardi; both artists pioneered immersive digital art experiences in France. It has captivated audiences in Toronto, Chicago and San Francisco.
Impact Museums has partnered with Lighthouse Immersive to open in eight more cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Dallas and now Pittsburgh. Openings in other cities are in the works.
The show runs 35-40 minutes, and boasts 90,000,000 pixels of animation, 500,000 cubic feet of projections and 60,600 frames of video. Circles of light— 6 feet apart — are projected on the floor, designating COVID-safe spacing for attendees, who must also wear masks and undergo temperature checks.
Pittsburgh was chosen as a destination for the exhibit because it is “a dynamic art city,” Shedletsky told the Chronicle. “Although its population size is smaller than some of the other markets that we are in, like Los Angeles, New York and Chicago, it’s a market that loves culture and entertainment. And it’s a sophisticated city, and obviously it’s a beautiful city.”
Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Art houses three works by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), including an etching of Dr. Gachet, who treated the painter for a psychological disorder. Despite his illness, van Gogh created almost 900 paintings between1881 and 1890.
Van Gogh did not sell many paintings during his lifetime, according to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, but he did sell “more than a couple” — despite popular lore that he only sold one. The artist also often traded his work with other artists, sometimes in exchange for food or art supplies.
In a letter to his brother, Theo, van Gogh wrote, “It’s a rather sad prospect to have to say to myself that the painting I do will perhaps never have any value.”
A hundred years after his death, his painting “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” sold for $82.5 million at auction.
The Original Immersive Van Gogh is “a new way of exhibiting his work,” Shedletsky said, and “has now become part of the cultural zeitgeist. Almost everybody I speak to tells me they see it in their [social media] feed on a daily basis, either because they’re seeing the advertising for it or because they’re seeing their friends post the photos from attending it. … I think the awareness and interest level in this exhibit has been nothing that we’ve seen before in location-based entertainment or immersive entertainment. It really is the first global blockbuster of a show.”
So far, more than 3 million tickets have been sold to the exhibit worldwide.
Shedletsky, who grew up in Toronto, is the grandson of Holocaust survivors on his father’s side, and his maternal grandfather fought in World War II on behalf of Canada. From a young age, he said, they instilled within him “a sense of the importance of Judaism, both as religion and tradition.”
He grew up in a Conservative household and attended Hebrew day school. His wife, Diana Rayzman, another partner of Impact Museums, is also Jewish. Shedletsky remains active in the Jewish community, volunteering and speaking at events hosted by Jewish groups. He follows in the footsteps of his father, Dr. Ralph Shedletsky, former chair of Jewish Federations of Canada – UIA.
“Believe it or not, most of the partners at Lighthouse and Impact Museums — not all, but most — are also Jewish,” Shedletsky told the Chronicle. Their nonpublic joint venture name, he noted, is LHIM, which they like to pronounce as “l’chaim.”
The Original Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit will run through Feb. 6. For more information, go to vangoghpittsburgh.com. PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.