Starry starry night

Last night I attended a private view of ‘Beyond Van Gogh – the immersive experience’. This is a touring installation that until 24 July 2024 can be seen at the Exhibition Centre Liverpool, next door to the M&S Arena on the city’s beautiful waterfront. There’s been plenty already written about the show as it has already made its way across the USA and Canada, and been seen by more than five million people. Its publicity boasts an experience with four trillion content pixels that shows off the finest details of Van Gogh’s works in unprecedented clarity, as if painted before your eyes… so, this is something I knew I had to see for myself in order to make a fair assessment of it.

Through the use of cutting-edge projection technology and an original score, ‘Beyond Van Gogh’ breathes new life into over 300 of Van Gogh’s artworks. As a technology geek, someone who has designed for gallery spaces, and a fan of art history, how could I resist?

I excitedly entered the curtained-off installation area with an open mind, ready to witness the classics we’re all familiar with – in a most unfamiliar way. Again, to quote from the publicity – witness over 300 masterpieces, including instantly-recognisable classics such as ‘The Starry Night’, ‘Sunflowers’ and ‘Café Terrace at Night’, now freed from their frames… Initially, I was rather disorientated as I had stepped from an area bathed in sunshine to near darkness, something that works really well as it adds an extra vividity to the already colour-saturated introductory display panels. In this area, the artist’s images and textures are used as backgrounds on expansive fabric panels, lit from the inside. These panels effectively summarise Van Gogh’s life, providing context and a concise introduction to what comes next in the main installation space.

The hangar-like main area is considerable and impressive. Upon entering, images fill it from floor to ceiling, swirling and shifting before ones very eyes, at times they’re repeated on opposite walls or underfoot, cut up with key details animated. At other times, pieces are revealed gradually, as if we’re watching them being painted on the grandest of scales before our very eyes. It’s fascinating to see the static made animate, as windmill sails turn, birds fly and petals seemingly float in the winds of cloud-filled skies.

The geek in me spent the first ten minutes trying to work out the technicalities of how this was achieved as I tried to spot all the projectors hidden up above us that were creating this impressive tapestry of light. I gave up after counting about 25 of them, and pondered the complexities of how one would begin separating out the myriad of Van Gogh’s signature elements for this project that has has clearly been years in the making. Also of note, the show is highlighted by a beautifully complementary soundtrack; Vivaldi’s Four Seasons Recomposed by Max Richter worked particularly well to my ears.

“He saw more than other people I think. He saw space very clearly which not everyone can see” – David Hockney, 2019.

The whole experience was different to anything I’ve previously experienced. I needed to adjust my senses to appreciate what was going on around me, so it was helpful that soft seating was positioned in the centre of the space, allowing the viewer to more comfortably take in the 360-degree experience. This is an exhibition, but not in the traditional sense, as one is enveloped by images and sound, it is a feast for the eyes and ears. I could wax lyrical here about how much I enjoyed the show, but to end how I started, words probably won’t be enough – just go see it for yourself.

Thank you to Bill Elms for the invitation and to his sister Sandra for sorting it all out. Follow the progress of the exhibition via their social media channels:

Instagram: @beyondvangoghuk

Facebook: Beyond Van Gogh UK


  • Sandra

    Great review Andrew. Really well detailed which helps the less technical people like myself understand how it’s put together.

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