“It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.”
-Van Gogh to his brother Theo.
The Meet Vincent Van Gogh Experience, created by the Vincent Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, is a pop-up museum located in Port Vell in Barcelona. It’s small, only 1500 square meters, but packed full of information and interactive experiences that highlight the life and thoughts of Van Gogh.
The content of the museum is founded in letters that he wrote to his brother, Theo. Grab a headset at the entrance and as you walk through the exhibit, you're listening to his letters read aloud. This provides an incredibly intimate experience. It's unlike being in a typical museum, because you hear Van Gogh’s “voice” as you walk through the stories of his life.
Each audio clip is attached to a portion of the exhibit. You follow Van Gogh's letters as you follow the paintings he’s referencing and the places he’s living. The museum appeals to all the senses. You feel the wind blowing through wheat fields and touch the textures in his paintings. You see the streets of Paris as he did, and hear him talk through his artistic process as well as his innermost thoughts and feelings.
The Van Gogh Experience is also incredibly interactive. You can sit on wheat stacks and take in the view as he might have done or lay in the bed that inspired his painting The Bedroom. There’s also three art stations set up where you can create your own art.
The first is a sketching station that uses perspective frame, the technique he used when drawing. The second is a digital painting area that uses the colors from Van Gogh’s palette. And lastly, a self-portrait station, where paper and colored pencils are set up facing individual mirrors so you can make your own self portrait.
Another unique aspect of the museum is its use of technology. Projections are set up everywhere showing specific paintings connected to the audio. We see different places he’s living (including the mental clinic in Saint-Rémy), and even some key moments in his life acted out, specifically the moments that lead to him cutting off his ear. Projections at the end of the exhibit display all his work and the lasting impact it’s had on the art community.
The museum operates in a loop/circle shape and uses its limited space very effectively, you would have no idea it’s a pop-up museum from the inside. It’s also worth the money, 14,50 € for general admission or 12,50 € reduced, and definitely worth the time. It took me about 45 minutes to go through it, but you could easily get through in 25-30 minutes.
Getting closer to Van Gogh
The two biggest things I took away from the experience was how loving his relationship was like with his brother, and how much his mental illness affected his life and his work.
It’s a well-known fact that he struggled heavily with mental illness, but I didn’t realize how much it coincided with his art and how badly he wanted to get better. The museum does a great job of educating you on the mind behind the work, so you can see his life the way it actually was. I also didn’t realize how strong of a relationship he had with Theo. From what I’d read of him and learned in school, he always seemed to be depicted as a recluse with no relationships of any kind. But the museum shows how compassionate he actually was and how deeply he was devoted to his brother. It humanizes him in a way we don’t normally see.
In my experiences with museums in Barcelona so far, the Van Gogh Experience definitely ranks higher than most, due to its uniqueness and interactive qualities. It’s not a huge tourist attraction. There wasn't a line when I went to visit, which helped preserve the intimacy of the experience. I believe art should be more than just looked at; it should be experienced fully in as many different ways as possible. This museum gives you the chance to do just that, to experience Van Gogh in a way that speaks to not just the eyes, but to the soul.
By Caroline Abernethy
Read more information about this exhibit here!
About the Author
Caroline Abernethy is studying Theatre and Art History at Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University, AZ. During her time in Barcelona she is exploring the local art scene and sharing her experiences with FrikiFish readers.