Throughout this year, select North American cities will offer a chance to snag a ticket to a touring “immersive exhibition” of the Dutch painter. Actually, make that exhibitions, plural.
Art exhibitors have been transfixed by Van Gogh’s work (and moneymaking potential, in part because his paintings are available in the public domain) for the past few years. But there has been a surge of recent interest in the immersive exhibits following the depiction of one such show in the popular Netflix series “Emily in Paris.”
“Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience” — maybe write that down — is the only such show scheduled to start in Washington at “a secret location” in July.
Still have questions? You’re not alone. A quick scan of recent reports and social media posts indicates that some ticket buyers are confused by the lack of location and were likely expecting a ticket to “Immersive Van Gogh” — which advertises exhibitions in more than a dozen U.S. cities, some already open. (The two exhibits will directly compete in at least four markets, including New York and Dallas.) Mario Iacampo, producer and artistic director of “Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience,” told The Washington Post that the to-be-announced venues for his events are due in part to using physical spaces that are in transition because of the pandemic, and in part the result of a marketing strategy designed to keep customers engaged.
Even with controversy swirling in other cities around accusations of deceptive marketing by “Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience’s” parent company, Fever — and nearly 400 complaints sent to the Better Business Bureau — the show has already sold out its first four months in D.C. and will run through January 2022.
“From our perspective, we’re pretty straightforward with what we are,” says Iacampo, whose “Immersive Experience” began in Naples in 2017. “I don’t spend a lot of time comparing. Anybody that calls and says they bought it for the wrong show, you know, they can have their money back. I personally answer anybody that calls about those kinds of questions. Because I want to be clear that we’re not trying to [confuse customers]. That’s not our objective.”
“Immersive Van Gogh” producer Corey Ross disagrees with Iacampo’s assessment.
“Our position has been that if, by any chance, someone is confused and wants to see their show but buys tickets to ours, we’ll give them an immediate refund,” Ross says. “That’s not their position.
“We’ve had zero people ask for refunds to our exhibit, but we’ve had hundreds of people write to us and say that they’re trying to get refunds from the other party and they’re not giving it.”
(Ross also notes that “Emily in Paris” star Lily Collins has put her stamp of approval on “Immersive Van Gogh,” which debuted in 2019.)
In Boston, “Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience” is causing an identity crisis. Michelle McCormack founded Secret Boston (secretboston.net), an events promotion company of things to do around the city. Secret Boston has been promoting “Imagine Van Gogh,” which will debut in December — “Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience” is scheduled to open there in September. However, to promote the latter show, Fever has bought a host of domain names in cities including Boston with “secret” plus the name of the city (with the more valuable .com ending).
“It was in early March,” McCormack says. “Literally, my phone was blowing up with phone calls and emails from angry Secret Bostonians demanding refunds from us.”
McCormack also attributes the confusion to Fever’s ticketing system requiring customers to use the company’s app to complete a purchase. “We had seniors calling us … one lady that bought tickets for her and her friends, and she’s like, ‘I don’t know how to download an app.’ And we’re like, ‘Oh, that’s not us.’ ”
So, what can you expect from some of these exhibits?
“Immersive Van Gogh” will offer some glitz and glamour. Ross called creator Massimiliano Siccardi the Steven Spielberg of immersive experiences and cited New York creative director David Korins’s past work, including scenic design for “Hamilton.” There are site-specific build-outs and designs for each location, such as New York’s waterfront venue Pier 36.
“Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience” offers up a sub-two-minute promotional video, since there is no U.S. location that has opened, but Iacampo promises a full narrative experience over 75 minutes. The show will weave in bits of Van Gogh’s life, showcasing more than 300 of his works in different sizes and arrangements, accompanied by letters to his brother in which he explained the genesis of certain pieces. There will also be a 10-minute virtual reality portion. The connective thread goes back to iconic colors and images in Van Gogh’s art.
“He doesn’t fit in any [era],” Iacampo says. “Yeah, we say post-impressionism, but I think we say post-impressionism more because he lived in a time of post-impressionism. He was influenced by everything from his Japanese time; he did some super-realistic stuff and some post-impressionism.”
It’s perhaps fitting, then, that such a timeless artist is at the center of a uniquely 21st-century problem of digital miscommunication.