REVIEW: Van Gogh Alive @ Brighton Dome Corn Exchange

May 24, 2023

Words by Eric Page. 

Lead pic: Eric in the Artist’s Bedroom.

It’s a very old-fashioned type of thing this Van Gogh experience, a space to approach the works of a painter, but without a single one of their actual paintings being there. It’s certainly not an exhibition but I did learn something about Van Gogh and enjoyed the endless wash of images projected onto more than a dozen massive screens folded around the huge walls of the spectacular wooden vaulted Corn Exchange, it’s also projected onto the floor, so everywhere you look there’s some Gogh, go go going on.

Light animations are added to the paintings – a cigarette smoulders, a steam train puffs through a landscape, the famous Starry Night twinkles, reflections ripple. This works surprisingly well, again feeling more like a Victorian Magic Lantern show rather than a cutting edge multimedia extravaganza.

There’s a subtle scent pumped into the space that I’m not sure many folk noticed, but it was pleasant enough olfactory concoction, like walking past the Molton Brown shop and getting a waft of earthy notes of vetiver and sandalwood. The info panel suggests the scents of rural summer France, though I’m not sure if the team have traipsed around a french farm in high summer, but we’ll let that go…

There’s some interactive bits, but this is in a different part of the Dome, upstairs, round a corner, down a bit, up some more stairs, through a door marked ‘activity room’  and I’d have missed it if the door staff hadn’t asked me on the way out ‘did you see the Sunflower room’? Clear signs would help here, understated discretion on minimalist signage are fine for the toilets and café, but if you’ve paid for a ticket you want to see it all. Big bold arrows with ‘Sunflower room this way’ would help.

It’s an InstaRoom, and if you’ve the patience to wait your turn you may get a fun shot. I rather enjoyed the recreation of Van Gogh’s bedroom, a cool IG opportunity to be ‘part’ of the picture. There’s also a collection of easels where you can paint your own Van Gogh, using a tracing paper type technique.

Down the stairs there’s the surprisingly modest shop with some standard sunflowery type merchandise, along with one of the new café spaces of the restored Dome, hung with a huge golden horse referencing the original use of the space as the riding stables for the Prince Regent.

Van Gogh’s paintings are in the pubic realm, so there’s ample option for doing what you like with them. This ‘immersive experience’ treats his work with respect, sharing some info panels at the beginning about his different styles, famous paintings and failing mental health, projecting a huge selection of his paintings, in a sympathetic chronological order, along with striking extracts from his own diary, giving real insight into the mind of this creative and the angst and mental pain he experienced. I was moved by some of the written text, which cycles along with the paintings.

The projections include images of Paris from the 1890s – maps, work which influenced Van Gogh’s painting and a few contemporaries. It puts the work in context with a wide brush. His paintings and images endlessly flow across the huge surfaces and are accompanied by light classical music from the same period (mostly). It’s a stylish, lite concoction, and when you get a puff of sandalwood, a tart phrase from his letters and his huge hollow tortured face looking back at you from a dozen walls, it is engaging and thoughtful.

People sit around the walls, on the floor, on some of the low benches and let it all wash across them. People film, take pictures. Tip: Wear all white if you really want your social posts to look cool! The image cycle repeats and there’s no pressure to leave, so bring a cushion if you like, young people and dogs were in there, taking pictures is encouraged, people were respectful and discreet. I looked around for details of the creative team, but there didn’t seem to be any acknowledgements, more info here:

Until 3rd September 2023

More info about the event can be found on the Brighton Dome Website here: