Van Gogh at the Drive-Thru? As Museums Remain on Lockdown, a Toronto Exhibition Is Treating Viewers to the Dutch Master’s Art in Their Cars

Visitors to the Toronto exhibition can experience the sound-and-light show from their cars.

Image courtesy @ImmersiveVanGogh on Facebook.
Image courtesy @ImmersiveVanGogh on Facebook.

With social distancing regulations in force, and many uncomfortable attending in-person events, there has been a renewed interest in drive-in experiences. The growing appeal of drive-in movies has inspired others to experiment with live events such as drive-in concerts and raves—and now, an art exhibition.

An immersive sound-and-light show of Van Gogh paintings in Toronto, Canada, is experimenting with the drive-in model after its original plans for a walk-through exhibition were sunk by the public health situation. The exhibition in Toronto has adapted to allow some visitors to take their cars through the show while it remains impossible to stage the blockbuster experience as planned.

“Presenting cultural events during this time of COVID-19 is an incredible challenge and we are saddened to see the cultural calendar in Toronto diminished as almost all arts institutions have cancelled their events and laid off their artists and staff,” the organizers of the event write in a statement. “We have been working around the clock to come up with innovative approaches that will make presenting ‘Immersive Van Gogh’ safe for our audiences.”

Image courtesy @ImmersiveVanGogh on Facebook.

Image courtesy @ImmersiveVanGogh on Facebook.

The exhibition engulfs the visitors in room-sized light projections of the Dutch painter’s famous artworks, including Starry Night and Sunflowers, which are backed by an original soundtrack. Set in a former newspaper printing factory, visitors can experience part of the exhibition by car from June 18 to 28.

Fourteen cars at once will be allowed to park inside to take in the 35-minute light show with music. Tickets for the drive-in experience, priced at CAD$94.99, are already sold out. The original was slated to open on May 1 but the opening was pushed back as its organizers revamped their concept. 

Art-directed by Massimiliano Siccardi with music composed by Luca Longobardi, the exhibition has been organized by the same company that staged the popular Atelier des Lumières light show in Paris, which drew more than two million visitors. While such blockbuster digital experiences were on the rise in 2019, our new reality threatens their existence as people are no longer comfortable being crammed together inside.

The full exhibition is spread across five storeys, and will reopen for walk-in visitors when it is allowed by city officials. Visitors who buy tickets for the drive-in preview can still view the rest of it on foot when it is open, and it will now run for an extended period through the end of September.

A statement on the website says that they are setting the capacity for the walk-ins at 132 people, which would allow 75 square feet per person (currently the public health services in Canada recommend 21.5 square feet per person).

“As devoted arts patrons, we are deeply saddened by the impact of the virus on so many cultural institutions and events here in Toronto and around the world,” the exhibition producers say. “While we will remain vigilant, we also believe in the resilience of culture in this great city.”


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