Van Gogh comes to life in Malaysia

'Van Gogh Alive' comes to Malaysia for the first time! Is it worth the price of admission?


Even if you have very limited exposure to art, chances are, you would have heard of Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh. His works, while not achieving much renown during his own lifetime, became dramatically more celebrated after his untimely death, and are now regarded as some of the most famous and influential of European art. While many Malaysians have been curious about Van Gogh’s art; for the most part, his artwork is inaccessible, hanging in museums half a world away. However, Van Gogh Alive while not quite the same as seeing the original masterworks in person, aims to deliver a unique and interactive experience.

Van Gogh Alive has been exhibited in 80 cities worldwide, and has now debuted for the first time in Malaysia. Upon entering the exhibition, one is greeted by a “field” of sunflowers, the flower most commonly associated with Van Gogh. Mirrors on all sides of the exhibit create the illusion that the sunflowers continue on infinitely into the distance. This sets the tone for the rest of the exhibition: often surreal, and primarily concerned with putting you in the head of the Post-Impressionist artist.

The next room mainly contains little printed replicas of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings, accompanied by descriptions detailing the paintings’ backgrounds and Van Gogh’s state of mind when he painted them. For those interested in reading about the stories behind the sometimes enigmatic paintings, this part of the experience may prove illuminating. The tragedy of his life unfolds through the series of descriptions as visitors can chart his career from his early beginnings to his final painting before his tragic death, and the context surrounding it. There is also an interactive section where visitors can use pencils to sketch out one of Van Gogh’s paintings following guidance projected on screen.

A quaint replica of Van Gogh’s room is also located in this section, with everything in it painted in the artist’s signature style. This could be a good location to take some pictures.

The next section, touted as an immersive experience, is an audiovisual exhibit where Van Gogh’s paintings and writings are projected onto multiple screens surrounding visitors. The entire exhibit is accompanied by classical music. This exhibit continues the theme of being a window into Van Gogh’s psyche and learning about how he perceived the world through some rather poignant quotes. The full experience is around 40 minutes, although visitors do not have to stay for the entire presentation.

Due to the nature of the projections, if you are wearing a light-coloured shirt, your clothing could serve as an excellent canvas for the hues of the projected painting. Some of the more creative visitors may be able to take some beautiful shots by standing in just the right positions.

While the first part of the exhibition ends here, the second part, The Greatest Artist, is free to visit for all ticketholders. This is an interactive, somewhat surreal series of exhibits such as a projection of sunflowers set against a backdrop of swirling stars. The visitor is given a wicker basket to hold in front of the projection, presumably as a prop for photographs. In another interesting section, you and your friends can have your pictures taken, which will be then converted by an AI into an impressionistic-style portrait, although of course, the final result does fall short of Van Gogh’s work.

Following that, there is also a projection of kaleidoscopic floral patterns onto umbrellas that can be held by visitors to pose for photographs. Perhaps most intriguingly, there was also a device that purportedly scans visitors’ brainwaves as they watch a video of wildly surreal, rapidly shifting imagery from Van Gogh’s art. The rate at which the art shifts and twists are supposedly affected by the state of the viewer’s thoughts, although there seemed to be little difference from person to person. Nevertheless, the video was highly captivating.

Overall, it was an entertaining way to spend an afternoon, although serious art enthusiasts may be disappointed that the exhibition focuses more on delivering an experience that is more style rather than substance. Rather than focus on a detailed inspection of the art, it encourages visitors to immerse themselves in the atmosphere of the place, and take some pretty photographs. If one were to nitpick, while the written descriptions of the artwork were educational, the printed reproductions of the paintings themselves were slightly too small to properly appreciate the beauty of the compositions. However, if you go in with the expectation of simply seeing some pretty imagery, you will not be disappointed.

The exhibition is up at Level 3, Pavilion Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur until March 16, 2023, from 10am to 10pm daily. You can book your tickets here!

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