'Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience' at Resch Expo: Why it might make you want to twirl or tear up, or both

ASHWAUBENON - “Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience” is like walking into the paintings of one of the world’s most famous artists, but that doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself to merely strolling through it.

Feel free to sit or lie down on the floor to be in awe as “The Starry Night” moves around you. Do as children sometimes do, and chase the petals of “Almond Blossom” as they flutter across the floor. If you have the sudden urge to spin yourself around amid all the happy color of “Sunflowers,” don’t hold back.

“I see a lot of twirling, a lot of twirling. People just being joyful in the space,” said Fanny Curtat, who has been through the multimedia spectacle from Paquin Entertainment Group hundreds of times as its art history consultant.

The touring attraction that has played more than 60 North American cities in the last three years opens a nine-week run today at the Resch Expo, where more than 300 of Vincent Van Gogh’s masterpieces come to life through cutting-edge projections that flow across walls, columns and floors in grand scale. An instrumental soundtrack played robustly enough to drown out nearby chatter further whisks visitors away into the Dutch painter's brushstrokes.

More: Here are all the major concerts, comedy shows in Green Bay area through 2023 and into 2024

More: It's not summer without outdoor music. Here's your 2023 Green Bay-area guide to all the concert series, new, old and even on the water

It’s a moving experience in more ways than just how the floor seems to ripple beneath your feet and how Van Gogh’s eyes blink or a puff of smoke comes out of his pipe in the dozens of towering self-portraits.

“I have to say the thing that struck me the most is how many people got teary-eyed,” Curtat said. “Everybody is going to experience it differently. You bring to an exhibit what you have already with you, but there are so many people who are touched very deeply, and I think it’s because there’s this connection and you can relate to him.”

We asked Curtat to guide us through the world of Van Gogh before we immersed ourselves in a sneak peek of “Beyond Van Gogh” at Resch Expo earlier this week. Here’s what we learned, along with some practical tips for anyone who plans to catch the event through Aug. 10.

Guests explore "Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience" during a preview event Tuesday at Resch Expo. The touring event is expected to be a big draw all summer during its nine-week run.

Let's start with the ear incident, shall we?

If people know just one thing about Van Gogh, it’s likely the ear. He was suffering from severe depression in 1888 when he cut off the lower part of his left ear with a razor. He struggled in his life with psychotic episodes, depression, anxiety and self doubt but still found beauty in the world around him.

“People tend to remember him for the darkness of his life and the ear-cutting incident mostly, but his work is not about this darkness. His work is about getting out of it,” Curtat said. “It’s about solutions out of it. It’s about finding healing in art, in color, in nature, and that’s what we really wanted to focus on.”

There's a good reason 'The Starry Night' is so widely known

“That painting is probably not only his most famous work but probably one of the most famous artworks in the world — period,” Curtat said. “It is striking. People remember it for the energy of it. There’s a village at the bottom of that painting, but people almost forget about it, because what they remember is that twirling, tumbling, turbulent sky.”

Van Gogh painted it in the later years of his life, after committing himself to an asylum shortly after the ear incident. It was inspired by the view from his iron-barred window.

It’s a good example of Van Gogh’s work, because it’s not necessarily about what he saw, it’s about what he perceived. His ability to express what he was feeling, rather than paint a precise reproduction of the landscape in front of him, is why Curtat thinks so many people gravitate toward that painting and his work in general.

“It’s so luminous. We kind of almost forget that it is a starry night, that it is a night scape. Not a lot of artists painted the night the way he did. He saw color in the night.”

Vincent Van Gogh was drawn to paint sunflowers for their rustic beauty. His "Sunflowers" masterpiece is among those featured in "Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience."

Why he found such inspiration from nature and sunflowers

Van Gogh was inspired by nature, from its cycle of life and death to its ability to refresh. To him, nature was sacred, powerful and symbolic. One of the reasons he left Paris for the South of France, Curtat said, was to be surrounded by the sun and the colors of irises and sunflowers. He has become synonymous with the latter.

“He loved them because they were rustic,” Curtat said. “They had a roughness that he associated with and that pleased him, but there’s also something about the sunflower that it’s the flower that turns toward the sun, toward the source of life, so for him it became the flower of gratefulness, of gratitude.”

'Scale changes everything' in the appreciation of his art

The chance to see Van Gogh’s paintings in an immersive format on such a large scale offers a new perspective to his Post-Impressionistic collection of paintings, Curtat said. Art on a smaller scale tends to elicit a more intimate reaction, as you peer into it or lean over it, but when it’s all around you, your body reacts differently, she said.

“Being inside the exhibit, you have another appreciation for the detail of his work, the way you see the brushstroke blown up. You see his technique so much more, because you see the way he puts the brushstrokes side by side. They’re not blended,” she said. “Scale changes everything.”

A guest reads about Vincent Van Gogh's life from one of the panels at the start of "Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience" at Resch Expo.

Take the time to read about him when you first enter 'Beyond Van Gogh'

The first room of “The Immersive Experience” is made up of lit panels that tell Van Gogh’s life story, from his birth in 1853 in the Netherlands to a failed attempt at becoming a preacher, like his father. You learn fun facts, like why he signed his paintings only as “Vincent,” but it’s also a chance to get to know Van Gogh in his own words from his letters to his brother, Theo. The two shared a special bond through their written correspondence over 18 years.

“It’s incredible, because you do feel like he’s opening his heart, his soul, his mind to his brother, who was everything to him,” Curtat said. “His brother was his life support on so many levels.”

She encourages people to take the time to read about Van Gogh before literally stepping into his work in the main hall. Learning what was in his mind will make for a greater connection to his art, she said.

How long it takes to go through 'The Immersive Experience' is up to you

The entire event covers 30,000 square feet in the Resch Expo’s Hall C. It's divided into three rooms: the introduction room, the main hall and a merchandise/virtual reality area.

The actual immersive experience portion is a 35-minute loop of selected works, beginning with his early days as an artist through his last abstract painting. While it has a beginning and an end and takes guests on a journey, you can jump into at any point, said Tarina Paquin, project manager with Paquin Entertainment Group. Feel free to watch it more than once.

Plan on about an hour to 90 minutes from start to finish, Paquin said, but you can spend as much time as you like. You can stand, sit on the floor or there are six benches in the main hall. Paquin sees everyone from babies in strollers to grandparents in wheelchairs come through.

"Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience" features a 35-minute loop of his famous works projected on walls, columns and the floor. Guests can spend as much time as they like.

When is 'Beyond Van Gogh' open and how much does it cost?

It runs through Aug. 10. Hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday. Last entry is an hour before closing. It’s closed June 17, July 4, 12, 27 and Aug. 3.

Visitors are encouraged to buy tickets online in advance at vangoghgreenbay.com for a designated entry time. Prices start at $33.99 for adults and $19.99 for children ages 5-15, plus ticketing fees. Prices at the door will be more. A premium flex morning pass for $49.99 allows entry anytime from the opening hour until noon. A VIP ticket that includes the “Beyond Van Gogh: A Life in Letters VR Experience,” flexible entry and a merch package is $73.99.

A virtual reality add-on takes you away to the South of France

Separate from the immersive experience, guests can pay an additional $12.50 in advance or $15 at the door for a 7-minute virtual reality add-on. You’ll sit down in a comfortable chair with a headset and be transported to the South of France countryside as excerpts from Van Gogh’s letters are read as if by him. Butterflies flutter right in front of you, irises bloom at your feet, his letters and drawings appear close enough to touch and the seasons change as you turn your chair for the full 360-degree experience.

It's quite remarkable. Treat yourself if you can.

Here's what you can and can't do as you go through

You can take as many photos and videos as you like, but no flash photography. Don’t touch or run into the walls. No food or drink.

What kind of merchandise is there to buy?

Be prepared to be tempted, as the merchandise is as colorful and beautiful as you might guess. You’ll find Van Gogh socks, hats, T-shirts, tote bags, lapel pins, posters, puzzles, books, cups, ornaments and even a figurine of the artist with a removable ear. Did we mention the ear-shaped eraser?

Vincent Van Gogh's 36 self-portraits are part of "Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience" at Resch Expo. Watch carefully and you'll see him blink or a puff of smoke go up from his pipe.

A few parting words about Vincent Van Gogh, the man ...

Curtat hopes the experience will help people see the many layers of Van Gogh. Yes, he cut off his own ear, but he also spoke four languages and could see something as simple as a pair of boots by a door and deem them worthy of a work of art.

“He was a lucid mind, very, very smart, very aware of everything he was going through. He was not this mad genius in a corner that people tend to think ...” Curtat said. “The way he transcended ordinary life into something filled with beauty and interest, that's something so powerful on a day-to-day basis."

Kendra Meinert is an entertainment and feature writer at the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Contact her at 920-431-8347 or kmeinert@greenbay.gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter @KendraMeinert

SUPPORT LOCAL JOURNALISM: Our subscribers make this coverage possible. Click to see the Green Bay Press Gazette's special offers at greenbaypressgazette.com/subscribe and download our app on the App Store or Google Play.

This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Going to Van Gogh exhibit in Green Bay? Why you might twirl or tear up