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Van Gogh The Immersive Experience Bristol Review

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Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience at Propyard Bristol – Is it worth going?

An aggressive social media marketing campaign peaked the interest of Bristolians for some months before the opening of Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience in Bristol this Spring. It was an easy sale, with images and videos of the immersive experience hooking customers in, despite annoyingly not announcing the ‘secret location’ until well into advance ticket sales.

Booking tickets also proved to be immensely difficult and glitchy online to the point where I had to buy two separate tickets in two separate transactions, an issue Twitter discussion showed I was not alone with experiencing. Your tickets are stored on the Fever app and this looks like a much easier way of purchasing tickets than the website.

The location turned out to be the Propyard in St Philips. Yes it was a fairly central location, but in a bus route desert and an annoying pavement – no pavement walking experience from our nearby location of St Jude’s.

So with all the fanfare, booking difficulties and annoying ‘secret location’ making it additionally harder for disabled people to book, is the Van Gogh Immersive Experience worth the fuss?

Yes it is. The first part of the experience takes you through reproductions of Van Gogh’s work, some projections onto 3D installations and a couple of dioramas. It was a bit of a ropey start and didn’t bode well. Things began to improve with small mirrored area featuring projections of small sunflower heads across the walls and floors. Perhaps not much to excite adults, but younger children and those with neurodivergence will love this sensory flavored area. Overall, this feels like a very child friendly place.

This all builds up towards what is the main event in a large spacious hall. Four giant walls act as projector screens upon which we see a long animation of Van Gogh’s most famous pieces of art flowing from one scene to another. This is on a loop which runs somewhere between 20-30 minutes, although I didn’t actually time it. The projections are accompanied by the occasional voice over of excerpts from his letters, giving an insight into his thoughts.

The space is filled with deck chairs and benches. People also sat on floors and there was plenty of space for children to move around safely and independently. The animations ran around the whole four walls, including the floor.

Projected paintings came to life, spilling their contents. A full size steam train came towards us with billowing clouds of steam. The Starry Night filled the room, each brush stroke moving and shimmering. This was all accompanied by a well considered soundtrack. This piece of immersive art moves you between feelings of sadness at the clearly difficult life Van Gogh battled mixed with a sense of wonderment at this absolutely startling genius who created some of the best pieces of work of all time.

I’m not an artist so I’m not a purist when it comes to the art world. But I also like to see things presented in new and accessible ways for wider audiences. The event in this respect is not a cash cow. It’s captured the flavour of Van Gogh’s work and brought it to new audiences in a new way.

You probably don’t even have to be that much of a Van Gogh fan to enjoy this experience. I never particularly like Van Gogh’s paintings until about ten years ago when I saw one of the Sunflowers paintings at The National Gallery. That one painting blew every other piece of art out of its room. What looks dull and uninspiring in school text books burns with fiery golds and burnt sadness in real life.

We spent around 1 hour 20 minutes at the experience, but you can stay longer. I could have watched the animations for hours and had to make a real effort at forcing myself to leave.

There is an additional ten-minute VR experience add on at £5 per person. You travel through the landscape and world of Van Gogh’s paintings. It was exceptionally brilliant. I left feeling that I’d been through the French countryside and Paris cafes in a VR experience that was better than a day at Legoland. It’s really worth adding this on to your trip.

To get the most out of your visit, you really want to go on a weekday during school hours and term time and allow around 1.5 hours minimum. If you are able to safely take part in a VR experience, this is absolutely worth the additional £5.

We loved it so much we’re hoping to fit it in again.

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