The Van Gogh Experience

And so to the driving force for our trip to Madrid, the Van Gogh Alive experience – an audio-visual show. We’d scouted the location yesterday so knew where we were going. Our entry tickets were for the first publicly bookable slot at 11:30. After a leisurely breakfast avoiding more chocolate and churros, we joined the queue to wait. There seemed to be an 11:00 slot but that was filled with a school party and, even though Spanish school kids seem far better behaved and controlled than do ours, we were pleased not to be in there with ‘em. This should be interesting.

It was interesting. We tramped three floors up an imposing marble staircase and came to a man who scanned our tickets and led off in a complex stream of Spanish. Our blank stares soon made him switch to English – what a guy. Photography is permitted as long as it’s without flash, of course, which would ruin the show.

Van Gogh RoomUnlike the Carrière de Lumières show in France, this large area included a static exhibition of some of Van Gogh’s paintings with accompanying explanation/discussion. If you felt like it, you could entertain yourself reading these before the audio-visual component commenced. I, of course, didn’t. Oh, there was a slightly bizarre mock up of Van Gogh’s room, too.

Leap of faith time: Francine had used ISO 3200 on her Canon 5D mk III successfully in the Carrière de Lumières so I opted to copy that on my new Olympus. I’d tried an even higher ISO 6400 shot once and that looked reasonably successful so maybe this would be OK, too. My Canon 7D, even the mkII, would be utterly hopeless at that ISO. I should’ve learned how to kill my in-focus beep, too, but it was too late now. When the projection and music began, I beeped away intermittently.

As expected, the scale wasn’t quite that of the Carrière de Lumières with its bauxite mine walls but the projections were still large and quite impressive. The accompanying music, a mix of classical pieces, went along nicely and one screen projected a series of quotes and snippets, should anyone want to read them between looking at Van Gogh’s paintings. One quote, which I now learn is well known, caught my eye:

I would rather die of passion than boredom.

Francine and I were in different areas of the exhibition for most of the time so hoped to get a varied representative sample of images. Given the dramatic colour changes, white balance setting proved also to be a leap of faith. There were a few benches on which to sit but mostly one has to stand and wander around the various sections of projection, which surround you. Some projections are even on the floor. Hopefully these will give a flavour.

Van Gogh #1Van Gogh #2Van Gogh #3Van Gogh #4

This appears to be a bit of a Marmite show in that people seem to either love it or dislike it, so much so that I almost called this post The Marmite Experience. The first set of your standard Internet reviews, which must always be taken with a hefty pinch of salt, that I saw had the vast majority of votes being either 5 or 1, with 1 winning  by a head. There were just a few 2 and 4 votes and no 3 votes at all. I began reading some of the reviews and the most frequent negative comment I found appeared to revolve around ticket price. Entry was 15€ and the AV show lasted about 30 minutes. There were, of course, also the static exhibits if you were interested. Full price entry to the Prado Museum costs the same amount, 15€, but you can stay all day should you have the stamina. So, several reviewers considered the Van Gogh Alive experience to be poor value. Some complained because there was little seating and they had to stand but to me, wandering to different sections of the sizable display arena is part of its appeal.

Personally, I like to be spoon fed my art in small doses with no effort required on my part. Being a slow reader, I’m not good at trying to absorb information in a traditional museum with static exhibits and printed words, even when it is a subject close to my heart, such as science or wildlife. So, this AV type of entertainment suits me perfectly and I would happily pay 15€ for a repeat visit here instead of going back into the Prado. If you are one who takes well to a traditional museum, wandering, browsing and reading about the exhibits yourself, then I can perhaps understand a negative sense due to the cost comparison. It does take a lot of quality projection equipment and precise installation of that equipment to put on a show such as this, though, so I think considering it expensive is a little harsh.

We all enjoyed it and left content.

Posted in 2018-2019 Winter

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