We saw Imagine Van Gogh with its giant light projections of Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings on the walls of the Vancouver Convention Centre the other day.
We were impressed by the exhibition. It was pretty cool! It was sort of what we expected, but not exactly. We were glad we went and really enjoyed it. Below are some of our thoughts and things we recommend you know if you haven’t seen it yet and plan to go.
If you want information about the specifics of Imagine Van Gogh, including ticket price details, see our article about the Vancouver Art Exhibition. For tips about how to prepare yourself for the exhibit, and answers to common questions, continue reading.
(Note: Near the end of this article is a video that shows in detail what the art displays look like at the Imagine Van Gogh event in Vancouver. To see the video scroll to the bottom of the page or click Van Gogh 2021 Video.)
Our Review of Imagine Van Gogh
Imagine Van Gogh is a touring art exhibition with a modern twist. It features art from the late 1800s projected on massive screens using 21st century technology. The show is in Vancouver, at the Vancouver Convention Centre, from mid-March until the end of August in 2021.
Below we describe what we expected from the exhibition, what it was really like, and what we think was missing. Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed the experience!
Answers to Questions about Imagine Van Gogh
Below are answers to seven questions people might have about the Imagine Van Gogh exhibition.
1. What Should We Expect?
Van Gogh’s art is projected onto multiple walls in a massive room in the Vancouver Convention Centre. It’s fairly dark inside, with constantly changing images all around. Sometimes the images are still and sometimes they are moving. The screens themselves are stationary. Every few seconds a completely new set of scenes appears. Classical music plays in the background.
The imagery and music are beautiful. They are cleverly and artistically put together. Don’t be surprised if you see a couple or two dancing spontaneously at the event. You might even feel like waltzing yourself!
Before we went to the exhibition ourselves we expected there would be a number of large rooms with giant screens. To our surprise, there are just two rooms, and only one with images of the art. Apart from an initial area with displays full of informational text, there is only one big room where you can see Van Gogh’s art on display. After you exit that room, the only thing left is the souvenir booth.
The main space at the Convention Centre is wide open and massive. There are multiple walls, all of various sizes and angles. There is also a tall cube-like tower with four additional walls in the middle of the giant room. Photos of the exhibition give the illusion of different rooms with different displays. In reality, the photos are all in the same room but appearing on different walls where the images are constantly changing.
Images of Van Gogh’s art are projected onto all the various walls, as well as on the floor. It’s like multiple PowerPoint displays and movie screens, all coordinated in a most artistic way. In total, the exhibition fills about 25,000 square feet of space!
Expect to See Ever Changing Segments of the Art
Don’t expect to see any of Van Gogh’s original art. You won’t see any, and the exhibition doesn’t say you will. Most of the art you’ll see is actually just images of parts of Van Gogh’s original works.
At the exhibition, occasionally you’ll see the image of an entire painting on a screen. More often than not, what you’ll see is different pieces of the same painting spread out over multiple screens. At times, every screen in the room features a different aspect of the same painting. At other moments, segments of multiple different paintings appear on the different walls.
The show works on a cycle that lasts for just over 20 minutes. During that time images from around 200 of Van Gogh’s paintings are displayed. The image on a given wall stays up for between about 5 and 30 seconds. After around 20 minutes the cycle begins again.
Because different scenes are projected on different walls, and it’s impossible to see all walls at the same time, to see everything you need to stay for at least two cycles, so for around 45 minutes. Some people stay longer while others stay for just one cycle. It doesn’t matter when you start – you’ll still get to see it all.
2. Is Imagine Van Gogh Worth Seeing?
For most people the answer is a definite yes. It’s impressive and something you’ll remember. That being said, if you don’t like Post-Impressionist art, or don’t care much for art or don’t like spending money to see it, then you might not see value in attending.
At the other end of the scale, if you’re a Van Gogh purist, who only likes original Van Gogh art and doesn’t like interpretations or creative versions of the great master’s work, then you might not appreciate the exhibition so much either. If you are somewhere in between, however, you’ll likely thoroughly enjoy the experience.
Imagine Van Gogh provides an exceptional introduction to the famous Dutch artist. It also provides a refreshing new take and perspective on some very well-known pieces of art.
3. How Long Do People Stay?
After checking in, expect to stay for between about 30 minutes and an hour. There is an introductory area with informational displays about the exhibition and life of Van Gogh. It takes about 15 minutes if you read everything. After that there is the art show which takes between around 20 and 40 minutes.
The average person stays for about an hour from start to finish. If you don’t want to read all the background information about Van Gogh and don’t care so much for his art, you can be in and out in half an hour. For people who read everything and love the experience, an hour isn’t enough.
4. Is the Exhibition COVID-Safe?
Nothing in life is guaranteed, especially when it comes to COVID-19. Unless you hide in your home and avoid all human contact, there is always a chance of getting infected. That being said, in our non-medical opinions, Imagine Van Gogh seemed to be an exceptionally safe activity.
Despite being an indoor event, the exhibition provides ample room for physical distancing. There are fewer than a hundred people in the room, and it’s a massive space, so staying more than 6 feet away from others isn’t a problem. The place didn’t feel crowded at all. Everyone must wear a mask. You also don’t have to touch anything.
In our opinion, Imagine Van Gogh has done a great job of keeping attendance numbers low and its guests safe. If you go just with people from within your own bubble (as you should), it’s probably one of the safest indoor activities you can do given the current world situation.
5. What Did We Like?
We were impressed with lots of things about Imagine Van Gogh, from the beginning until the end.
The Vancouver Convention Centre is a convenient place to get to. Parking in the area is expensive, and traffic can be a challenge at busy times, but it’s close to everything including Waterfront Station.
Check-in for us was simple and easy. There were signs outside directing us where to “gogh” and we were greeted by friendly staff. Because people buy tickets with a timed entry, there was practically no lineup.
Inside the first room, at the start of the exhibition, displays hang from the ceiling with information to read. It’s all nicely spread out. There is a lot to read, but you can move along and skip over things you aren’t interested in. The text is in both English and French.
We liked that at the start, before seeing the art, we got to learn about Van Gogh. The displays were text-heavy, but informative. We learned about the artist’s life and his challenges. We learned about his genius, passion, mental health issues and family.
The art exhibit itself was both beautiful and impressive. The art was all Van Gogh’s. The way it was presented, however, was almost as much the work of the 21st century artistic producers of the exhibition as the Dutch artist himself.
We loved the size of the images, the ways they were presented and the overall experience. It was all quite magical. We also appreciated the freedom we had to explore the exhibit. You didn’t have to stand in a line and wait your turn to see a tiny painting. You could wander freely for the most part and explore at your own pace.
6. What Could Have Been Better?
It would have been nice if Imagine Van Gogh was less expensive, as is everything these days. It was, however, definitely worth paying for.
At the exhibition we learned a lot about the artist, which was great, and we got to see and experience his art, which was all wonderful. The one thing we felt we didn’t learn about though was Van Gogh’s art, other than by seeing it displayed all around us.
The introductory area at the exhibit showcased the artist, his history and the background to the Imagine Van Gogh exhibition. It was all very interesting. There wasn’t much information though about the art itself. We didn’t learn the names of specific works of art, or what was so special about individual pieces.
During our hour at the exhibition we saw lots of the Dutch painter’s art, but left not knowing the names of any pieces, or even what some of the original paintings actually look like.
Van Gogh’s art was projected in the main gallery in pieces. Occasionally an entire painting was projected as a complete image on a wall. More often than not, however, different parts of the same painting were displayed on different walls. Also, often, different parts of various paintings were displayed on multiple walls. The result was that we can now recognize numerous images painted by Van Gogh, but not what paintings they were from or whether what we saw was a complete painting or just a small part of one.
If there was one thing that could have improved the exhibition, other than being less expensive, in our opinion, would be for it to have had more information about the actual art. In addition to the room with the historical information about the artist’s life, it would have been nice if it had included photos and descriptions of some of the art.
After you exit the exhibition hall, in the gift shop, you can purchase a souvenir program which contains additional information about what you have just seen. It would be nice though to have the program beforehand, or a room where you could get the information. After seeing the 20-minute cycle of images, it would have been nice to leave, look up some of the images, and then go back inside to see what else we could recognize.
Another challenge with the format is that the images all appear and disappear quickly. Each scene stays up for between just 5 and 30 seconds. The pace is nice, and a strength of the show. However, it also means that when you see something you like you can’t just stand there and admire it for as long as you’d like.
If you’re hoping to get a photo of a Starry Night scene, or the Sunflowers, have your camera close at hand! If you miss it, you’ll have to wait another 20 to 25 minutes!
Do Your Homework
To solve the above problem, we recommend people do some homework before seeing Imagine Van Gogh. You don’t have to learn about the artist’s life and personal history before you go. You’ll learn about that when you are there. Look up some of his art though.
Researching a bit about Van Gogh’s art will make it more fun and rewarding when you see something you recognize. The challenge though is knowing what will be on display, and on which wall and in what moment it’ll appear.
Before attending the exhibition, Google paintings like Starry Night, Yellow House, The Bedroom, Fishing Boats on the Beach and other Van Gogh paintings. A great website is that of the Van Gogh Gallery. It has information about a number of the Dutch master’s paintings. Another great resource is the website of the Van Gogh Museum in the Netherlands.
You don’t have to learn about all of Van Gogh’s art. If you know what a few pieces look like in advance, however, it’ll make it interesting to see how much you recognize when images flash before you on the giant screens. If you aren’t already familiar with the artist and some of his work, a little reading beforehand, about his art, not his personal history, will compensate for the main weakness of Imagine Van Gogh.
7. Which Van Gogh Art Will We See?
The Imagine Van Gogh exhibition features over 200 of Van Gogh’s paintings and drawings including his most famous works. You’ll see images of Starry Night with its vivid dark colours and bold brush strokes, and Starry Night Over the Rhône.
Other paintings you’ll see depicted at the exhibition are The Potato Eaters, Blossoming Almond Tree, Poppies, Olive Grove, Harvest in Provence, The Girl in White, The Sea at Saintes-Maries and many others.
Video of Imagine Van Gogh
We filmed the following video when we went to the event at the beginning of April in 2021. As you’ll see in the video there are images of the Dutch painter’s art on every wall. You really feel immersed in the scenes. The experience is both beautiful and impressive.
Other places to find art in the Lower Mainland include the following venues:
To learn about the venue where Imagine Van Gogh takes place, and its nearby neighbourhoods, check out the following:
Other articles that might be of interest include the following:
- History and Culture in the Lower Mainland
- Vancouver Rainy Day Activities
- Hotels in Downtown Vancouver
- Vancouver Bars and Restaurants
- Shopping in Vancouver
- Vancouver’s Festivals and Events Calendar