Worth the stress?
Worth the stress? Courtesy of Van Gogh Expo
Over the past few weeks, you may have seen an ad on Instagram or Facebook marketing an immersive Van Gogh exhibition coming to Seattle in November. I'm here to clear up some misconceptions about the event that had the Better Business Bureau "urging consumers to be aware."

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The exhibition coming to Seattle in the fall, Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience, has been around since 2017 and is run by Exhibition Hub, a European company that provides "edutainment experiences." This particular exhibition invites viewers to immerse themselves in Van Gogh with a "360-degree digital show" and a "one-of-a-kind VR experience." They say you will "feel the shift in reality as you dive deep into the world created by Van Gogh's brush strokes." Sexy.

Although the Seattle location is unannounced, the show seems to generally post up in warehouse or church-like spaces, adding to the awe of the immersion. Tickets will run you at least $36 per adult and reviews on TripAdvisor are pretty mixed. To me, I feel like if you spent that money on a cheap projector and wireless headphones, you could have a similar kind of party right at home.

But Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience is one of at least two immersive Van Gogh exhibitions traveling the country right now. The other is Lighthouse Immersive's Immersive Van Gogh—which will not be stopping in Seattle—and advertises itself as having "300,000 cubic feet of flawless projections animating Vincent van Gogh’s oeuvre." The show recently had its West Coast premiere in San Francisco and SFGate positively described the experience as like "being inside a broken TV set." From pictures, Lighthouse Immersive's setup seems genuinely more spectacular than Exhibition Hub's.

The similar names and concepts have fueled a lot of confusion over what exactly is being offered here in Seattle and other U.S. cities. While there's no reason to believe that Education Hub's immersive Van Gogh show is a rip-off, people across the city and country are upset because the ticketing platform, Fever, has some frustrating policies. Namely, not giving people refunds for their purchases once they realized this show might not be for them.

So the biggest takeaway from all of this is to be triple careful before purchasing expensive-ass, location-less tickets to this immersive show—make sure you're paying for the experience you want.

UPDATE 3/25: It looks like there is yet another immersive Van Gogh installation coming to the Puget Sound area. This time Imagine Van Gogh, the Original Immersive Exhibition in Image Totale© will set up shop this winter in Tacoma. The exhibition features more than 200 of Van Gogh's works and bills one of its creators as being the first to create an immersive Van Gogh exhibition back in 2001. Tickets for the Tacoma show aren't yet on sale, but you can sign up to get notified when they do. We have Emily in Paris to thank for the persistence of Big Van Gogh.

As a critic, I feel like it's my duty to tell you that exhibitions like Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience are probably not worth your hard-earned money and anxiety. I do, however, recognize the need for immersive, communal experiences of art (and cool selfies). There's nothing like witnessing something beautiful unfurl in front of your eyes with a large group of people, whether it be a performance, film, or digitally-rendered Van Gogh painting. It's a feeling that most people here in Seattle have been cut off from since the pandemic began.

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Issa vibe.
Issa vibe at Museum of Museums. JK

On that note, I must suggest a couple of immersive installations of art that you can find around the city for less than a ticket to see Van Gogh in six months.

The first and perhaps most analogous immersive experience is Energy Drink by Neon Saltwater and Brian Sanchez at the recently opened Museum of Museums on First Hill. The show brings Neon Saltwater's color-drenched, vibe-y, online rooms to real life, integrating Sanchez's dayglo paintings and sculptures into the space. You can move through a vibrant gym, a bedroom, and a waiting area. There's even a space where you can literally bathe in the color blue. Coupled with a spooky electronic score, Energy Drink lets you stalk a dreamscape in the middle of the city.

A few blocks over at the Frye Art Museum, Seattle artist Anastacia-Reneé invites viewers into the home of her character Alice Metropolis in Don't be Absurd (Alice in Parts). Using video, sound, text, and installation, Anastacia-Reneé charts gentrification, white supremacy, and cancer in the two-room exhibition. Tufts of hair, blood, candles, presents, and an alter to Audre Lorde decorate the space as recordings of Alice narrating her own emotions play throughout the space. While not immersive in the same way as Energy Drink or the Van Gogh exhibition, it's an equally effecting and communal way of ingesting art.

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