Imagine Van Gogh: Technology, Art and The Marketplace – A View From the Inside

There are a handful of immersive Van Gogh exhibitions dotting the global map. I had a chance to chat with Annabelle Mauger, who is very early in creating these experiences. The topic we discussed swirled around the question of whether technology is the downfall of artistic integrity.

Image Totale is the original concept for immersive exhibitions, a French savoir-faire invented by Albert Plécy in 1977 and created by his granddaughter-in-law Annabelle. With this technology, “warping techniques are used to adapt the surface to the projected image, thus respecting the latter’s integrity to magnify the artworks, whereas more traditional mapping techniques focus on adapting the image to the surface.” Warping consists of perfectly adjusting the projected work to the scenographic surface.

Purists will certainly contend that any exploitation of the original painting diminishes the artist’s vision. To me that argument carries an initial bit of weight, but as I thought through my conversation with Annabelle, I realized that such a view is not only elitist, is probably downright wrong.

When you think about any classic piece of art that has become beloved down the ages, it is likely because prints were made available, copies were displayed in books, postcards were mailed and posters were put up on walls. It was technology that allowed those new formats to drive greater awareness of masterworks. Moving into what Annabelle’s grandfather did, we now have the understandable proliferation of immersive experiences. It would be great to do a study to discover the Venn Diagram of people who have attended the immersive experience and then attend a museum for the first time within a year. I bet the overlap is impressive.

It is probably a loose analogy, but I would think it is pretty valid that hearing a recording of a musical artist is enjoyable, but seeing them perform live is generally even more so. In any event, Pew Research discovered that 83% of respondents believe to some degree that technology enhances the diversity and perception of art.

Annabelle told me her first vocation was an editor, specializing in art books. There she appreciated the need for space between text and image. She later became an exhibition director, and then worked on the first immersive venue. She noted such an immersive venue affords “a good background because there is no background.” It was in 2006 with a few video projectors displaying Cezanne paintings. A couple years later, she was deeply involved in the first Imagine Van Gogh projection show, based on the last 2 years of his life. It was presented in the part of France where the paintings were made.

In 2011 Annabelle worked on a more advanced immersive venue, where she leveraged the difference between mapping (adapting the surface where the image will be shown) and warping (adapting the picture you want to project). She emphasized “The latter is the most important. Not everyone can do this properly. Immersive is not simply putting the images on various walls. You need to create a dialogue among paintings.”

Annabelle and her team have been chosen by Picasso’s estate to handle the painter’s work in this medium. The team has a similar project underway with Monet’s work. I look forward to figuratively swimming in his pond at Giverny.

Clearing the rights to use images of the paintings is expensive and time consuming, conformed Annabelle. It is certainly possible that “The Starry Night” might not appear in the Van Gogh immersive exhibit you see.

Annabelle concedes there are now many immersive exhibitions, which has created confusion in the marketplace.

But like all good art over time, the best generally rises to the top.

Imagine Van Gogh exhibition schedule available here.

Imagine Monet exhibition schedule available here.

Imagine Picasso exhibition schedule available here.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.