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For an entirely new take on the Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh and an entirely different take on an art exhibition, you will want to take your student groups to “Beyond Van Gogh: An Immersive Experience at the TCF Center in downtown Detroit, Michigan.

“Beyond Van Gogh” uses projection technology to create a journey into Van Gogh’s world.

Although these immersion exhibits are becoming popular, this was the first one for me. I was not sure what it would be like, and I left impressed by the exhibit and wanting to learn even more about Van Gogh.

Beyond Exhibitions produced the exhibit in Detroit in partnership with 313 Presents.

The exhibit opened in late June at TCF Center and due to overwhelming demand and sell-out crowds has been extended to Oct. 3. Group tickets are available.

French-Canadian Creative Director Mathieu St.-Arnaud and his team at Montreal’s world-renowned Normal Studio created “Beyond Van Gogh: An Immersive Experience.” The exhibit features more than 300 of Van Gogh’s iconic artworks and takes visitors into a three-dimensional world.

The self-guided experience includes three rooms: the education room, the waterfall room and the immersion room. There’s a small gift shop at the end of the exhibit.

Education room
Credit: David Hoekman

As we moved through the education room in airport-style lines, panels explained the exhibit and related information about the artist and his tortured life. Every so often there were empty picture frames of various sizes hanging from the ceiling.

One of the panels noted mounting an exhibition of a renowned artist without the paintings themselves seems like an impossible task. But the exhibition takes that task and transforms it into a remarkable opportunity to embrace not only a remarkable body of work but also the freedom with which Van Gogh saw his craft and world around him.

Images cascade down in the waterfall room and are a precursor to what awaits in the immersion room.

In the large immersion room, Van Gogh’s art really comes alive. Projection-swathed walls are wrapped in color that swirls, dances and refocuses into flowers, cafes and landscapes.

More than 300 masterpieces such as “The Starry Night, “Sunflower” and “Café Terrace at Night” appear and disappear on the walls, floor and three large multi-sided fabric pillars spread around the room.

An unseen hand writes the lines of a letter. You see a brush stroke on a canvas and little by little, a painting emerges. The name Vincent appears on a painting, letter by letter, as if Van Gogh were signing the work. Water in a painting shimmers in the moonlight. Paintings morph into different painting and then burst their virtual frames, flowing on the floor and across multiple surfaces. And because the images are projected and large, the detail is amazing. All the while, a symphonic score complements the images and the artist’s dreams, thoughts and words.

In short, “Beyond Van Gogh” mesmerized me.

At one point, dozens of images of Van Gogh filled the immersion room. And I’m pretty sure Van Gogh winked at me.

“Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience” is coming to Danbury, Connecticut; Birmingham, Alabama; Buffalo, New York; St. Louis, Missouri; Salt Lake City, Utah; Portland, Oregon; and San Diego, California. The exhibition is currently on display in San Jose, California.

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David Hoekman is a former newspaperman on a quest to tell the stories of the world’s various places and cultures in compelling ways. He especially enjoys learning and writing about the business of group travel. His favorite destination is wherever he is going next and his travel tip is to always pack an emergency granola bar or two.