A starry, starry night has inspired many an artist. Perhaps none more enduringly than Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh in his 1889 canvas, appropriately titled “Nuit étoilée” (“Starry Night”), painted while he was resident in an asylum in France. It’s just one biographical detail from a complex, troubled life that has fascinated writers, musicians, theater-makers and the public for over a century.
“Immersive Van Gogh” takes that fascination a step further by putting visitors inside “Starry Night” and dozens of other canvases, renowned and obscure, in an elaborate multimedia environment. The attraction opens March 18 at SVN West, the former Fillmore West (and Honda dealership) at South Van Ness Avenue and Market Street.
Presented in The City by creators of an exhibit seen by over 2 million people in Paris, the show includes 500,000 cubic-feet of projections that illuminate van Gogh’s large catalog of masterpieces.
Arts presenter Svetlana Dvoretsky, one of “Immersive Van Gogh’s” co-producers, was first introduced to Van Gogh as a child. “I was born in St. Petersburg and a touring exhibit came to the Hermitage. There was a painting with three drunken men and I still remember their faces which reminded me of three very famous Russian actors,” says Dvoretsky.
Years later, in 2019, Dvoretsky, a resident of Toronto, attended the Van Gogh presentation in Paris. After initially feeling reluctant, she says, “I became absolutely mesmerized, spent about three hours in the space, and determined to bring that to Canada.”
Corey Ross, her business partner, had a broader vision. “And here we are!”
Logistical challenges of touring dozens of live artists around the world paled in comparison, she says, to managing an exacting, highly technical visual project with an international creative team via Zoom. Even something as critical as choosing the venue had to be decided virtually.
Curation from Van Gogh’s extensive portfolio was overseen by Italian artist Massimiliano Siccardi. No mere slideshow or Ken Burns photo effect, the optics — which run through cutting-edge equipment from the British company PRG — isolate and animate details from the art to a score by Luca Longobardi, and suggest evolutions Van Gogh might have imagined in visualizing his canvases.
Dvoretsky adds that COVID protocols will be in place: “Our staff for the public is huge and siloed in non-overlapping shifts for safety. We are taking all the prescribed precautions.” They include timed admissions, temperature checks, mask wearing, and social distancing in the main gallery and auxiliary installations by local artists.
Dvoretsky hopes that people, including potentially skeptical art purists, are ready to go out and safely reconnect with art in public. “We don’t say, ‘Come to our Van Gogh exhibit.’ No. This is another form of art and we hope it inspires you to see more,” she says.
IF YOU GO
Immersive Van Gogh
Where: South Van Ness Avenue and Market Street, S.F.
When: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m daily; March 18-Sept. 6
Admission: $50-$55 ($24.99 for children 16 or younger); reservations required
Note: VIP, timed and flexible ticket options are available; COVID-19 measures enforced