It’s not often we do art based visits, but the Van Gogh Immersive Experience caught my eye, and I decided I could probably sell it to N. He agreed (surprisingly) thanks to the attraction of VR, we managed to coordinate diaries during half term with a tennis friend, and we met up with them in Leicester to visit the Van Gogh experience followed by a trip to the National Space Centre.
The Van Gogh immersive Experience is on show in several countries and cities around the world. In the UK, it’s been running in London, Bristol, York and Leicester. Each is set in a different type of venue, iconic or historical, so you can experience Van Gogh’s paintings in unusual settings.
The Leicester location was in All Saint’s Church Highcross St, only a couple of minutes walk from the shopping centre and John Lewis, meaning it’s ideal for parking.
We booked a 10.30 slot. It’s only a small church, so there weren’t many people when we were there which was good.
The experience is split into different sections. The first is the ‘museum’ part which has displays about Vincent Van Gogh and his life, his mental state, and his paintings. I really didn’t know much about Van Gogh, so it was interesting to find out a bit more detail. I hadn’t realised how disturbed a man he was, or the circumstances of him cutting his ear off. The boys weren’t that bothered about learning anything, so it was a fleeting whizz through. But if you’re there without children, there’s plenty to learn and discover.
You also get to see a set of his bedroom at Arles, where he settled in France which was also one of the subjects of his paintings.
The 360 degree immersive experience
I expected the 360 audio and visual experience to be a standing immersion, where you could walk around within the art. Instead the art experience was seated – with deck chairs, benches or rugs and cushions on the floor to sit or recline and experience it.
Whatever way you look you’re surrounded by the artist’s works, with music and text to explain how the artwork narrated Van Gogh’s life. The experience is on a 30 minute loop so you join at any time, and it’s quite something to see the artwork beamed around you and moving from one piece to the next.
We didn’t stay in there for long, so I’m sure we missed more spectacular colours to come – I’m not sure we were in there for the most interesting pictures, although I did recognise quite a bit of the artwork shown. My photos don’t do it justice.
N and his friend were a bit bored, although there were other younger and similar aged children in there who were more interested. They did like the sensation of the rain falling around us.
To provide children (and adults if they wanted) with an activity, the next area had blank artwork that they could colour in. N and his friend decided they wanted to do some art, given the interest in being able to scan the work, we assumed onto the wall. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to be working. It kept them entertained for a while – everyone loves to colour in or draw, even 10 and 11 year old boys.
The VR (virtual reality) experience was what blew us away. This was £3 extra, but was well worth it.
It was all seated on turning stools, the boys went near the wall, while we were sat just in front. Once the VR headsets are on, you get to experience Van Gogh’s world in Arles, through several of his paintings.
We were taken from his bedroom downstairs and out down a path in the garden and into the fields, past sunflowers, hay stacks, through the woodland, and into the town towards the Rhone. At each place we stopped to view the scenes that inspired his paintings, and find out more about them.
If you’ve never experienced VR before, it is a surreal experience. You can turn around, look up and down. You expect to see your legs and arms in front of the view, but you don’t. The boys were commentating everything they were going through so we knew what to expect being a few seconds behind. It really felt like we were living through Van Gogh’s eyes, and seeing what he would have experienced.
Afterwards, all of us said that the VR was what made the experience. If you go, I definitely recommend adding that upgrade when you reach that section.
Finally it was through the small gift shop area, before emerging into the daylight again.
Details for visiting the Van Gogh immersive experience
If you’re an art fan, this type of immersive experience is a must. It does bring the artist’s world to life, and there was plenty to learn although it is a small location.
We paid for a family ticket which worked out at £9.50 each, plus the £3 on top. If we hadn’t got the VR experience, I’m not sure I’d have recommended it for children unless they’re really into reading everything on displays or interested in art. Under 3s are free though, and if the scan picture thing was working, that would have been a bigger tick.
Ultimately we did all come out saying we really enjoyed it, and it was something totally different to experience.
Note there’s no parking at the church, but it’s only a couple of minutes walk from John Lewis Highcross parking. There are also no toilets at the church, although there was one portaloo outside the door. I’d recommend using toilets in the shopping centre if there’s a few of you visiting.
You can book at Leicester or any of the other venues on the Van Gogh expo website, and keep a watch out for where it’s touring next.
Have you ever been to an immersive experience like this?