A warehouse in Hayes Valley is not usually where you expect to find art from one of the most famous impressionist painters in the world. But just off Van Ness and Market Street, there is a warehouse that houses the amazing Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit. Massimiliano Siccardi a brilliant digital artist, conceived of the idea of creating an experience where Van Gogh’s art comes alive. With music by Luca Longobardi, they have created a space where you feel like you are living in his most famous works of art. Visually stunning, this is a powerful experience for the whole family.
Vincente Van Gogh is one of the favorite painters of my husband and me. Personally, I came to appreciate impressionism and post-impressionism when I took an art history class while living in Barcelona. After that I started to seek out those paintings in famous museums such as Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the SFMOMA in San Francisco, and the Musee d’Orsay (my favorite) in Paris. My husband traveled quite a bit to Europe before we were married, and he raves about the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. My son did a modern art unit in his preschool, and the famous Starry Night painting always stood out to him as his favorite. As the kids have gotten older, and less willing to go along with just anything we say, we have avoided art museums, where they tend to get bored quickly. But when I started to see the Facebook ads for the exhibit, I knew we had to give this a try. We decided it was time to take the kids and try this one more time.
I preordered the tickets online, and after a nice dinner, we arrived at the location about 5 minutes before our timed entry. After security, you are present your tickets and are instructed to head up the stairs toward the exhibit. On the stairs are monitors that flash some of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings, as well as interesting facts about the paintings and where they are located. At the top there are restrooms to the left before you enter the exhibit. The attendant tells you a few basic pieces of information, then we walked down the long dark corridor and into the world of Van Gogh.
After sitting through about entire piece, we walked out in amazement. But the fun was not over. Because what is a good art exhibit in San Francisco without some Instagramable photo ops? They know their audience.
There is also a café and a gift shop where you can buy merchandise that has recreations of his famous paintings. The attendants at the shop were also incredibly helpful, when I could not find what I was looking for, they suggested I check the online store as they had sold out of items.
A few important tips for families:
- This is very COVID safe. Masks are required for everyone and must be worn through the whole time while inside. Many tried to enter without a mask. They failed. Many tried to take it off during the exhibit. People came over to talk to them. They are serious. And that makes me feel safe as a parent with unvaccinated children.
- Most people stay towards the middle, but do not feel obligated to. We walked around to get different views.
- There are not enough chairs or benches for people in the room. There are few folding chairs reserved for handicap use. Many people stand and many others sit on the floor. My husband stood the whole time. My kids and I sat on the ground for a period, and I eventually found a bench to sit in toward the end. My only regret is that we did not take some of the show sitting against the wall. I saw a few people do that, and it is supposed to completely change the experience.
- There was a platform in the center of the room. You had to wait in line and were only allowed 5 minutes at the top. But from the top, you could get a great view of the whole room and how the show spanned and connected.
- While there were a lot of adults at the show, this is generally very kid friendly. I saw more than just our family, and children younger than ours. Kids could walk around, my daughter even danced around. If they are not being a nuisance to the other patrons, it was all welcome as part of the experience.
- The music can be loud, and parts can be a little scary for younger children. There were a few moments where the music combined with the animated bugs frightened my kids a bit. We were warned that the music can be loud, but they do provide ear plugs if you wish. My son has an aversion to loud music, so the provided ear plugs really helped him out.
- In San Francisco, the bathrooms are to the left before entering the exhibit. Make sure everyone goes before entering.
- Tickets on the weekend and holidays are the most expensive. If you can swing it, during the day or early evening mid-week has the discounted child tickets and off-peak times. That is your best bet for the most economical way to see the exhibit.
The exhibit became famous in Paris but has now come to the US and is in 20 major US cities. If you love impressionism, Van Gogh, or just looking for a unique experience with the family, this is a great way to truly immerse yourself in the art. I have seen many art museums in my life, but I have never gotten to feel what it is like to fall into the painting and be surrounded by what you see. It is a delight for all your senses, and you will never look at a Van Gogh painting again the same.
* Photos taken by Atma Photography