[The following is a transcription of AM in the Morning host Aaron Dail's recent interview with museum curator Fanny Curtat, whose Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience is at the Davenport RiverCenter through July 20. Portions of the interview have been lightly edited for clarity. Listen to the full interview here.]
Aaron Dail: Joining us this morning on AV in the Morning, it’s Fanny [Curtat], and she is with Beyond Van Gogh, the immersive experience which is actually ongoing at the River Center in Davenport right now. Fanny, how are you today?
Fanny Curtat: I’m good, thank you. And you?
Dail: I’m good. I’m sensing a little bit of an accent there. Where are you from?
Curtat: I am from Montreal, but I was born in Paris.
Dail: Well, no wonder you’re into art! You were born in what a lot of people say is the art capitol of the world, right?
Curtat: It’s true. And Montreal is not too shabby, either. It’s a pretty cool thing.
Dail: I’ve heard good things about both places; I’ve been neither place; but I would love to go. I took French in college, but I can’t really speak very much of it anymore. Although I took Spanish in high school, and I’ve found that if you talk to someone who speaks it, it starts to come back a little bit. So maybe the same thing would happen with French.
Curtat: I’m sure it would, so you’re all ready to go to Paris, then.
Dail: There you go! Or, or at least walk around like I’m some hotshot at the, you know, this Van Gogh exhibit. So this is really cool, what you guys got going on here. I’ve been to plenty of art exhibits – in fact, I’ve gone to a Van Gogh exhibit, the Van Gogh-Gaugin exhibit that they had at the Art Institute of Chicago ... 20 years ago, maybe. somewhere in that vicinity.
Dail: It was really neat, and I’ve always loved Starry Night, and I’m, like, “Okay, they’re going to have some Van Gogh stuff down at the River Center. That’s really cool.” This is not what you’re doing. This is not a normal art exhibit. This is way, way cooler. So anybody who’s, like, “Art exhibit – bah!” … . You know, I get it. But that’s not what this is at all. This is not you walking around and looking at paintings and old wood frames and, you know, taking a picture with it or something. You are in the painting! The whole thing, Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience, is legit.
Curtat: So it’s really about blending cutting-edge projection technology with Vincent’s body of work. And through this blend, it allows you to, like you’re describing, literally set foot in the paintings themselves: To be part of the painting. Everything around you is projection-based, so you have all of his artwork flowing – all the walls, all the surfaces, the floor; everything moves along with you. It’s something that is truly, truly dreamlike. So it is perfect, like you were saying, for people who might be intimidated by museums. It’s not something that will ever replace a museum experience.
I’m an art historian. I’m addicted to museums, by my profession, and there’s nothing like the magic of an original Van Gogh, when you’re in front of one. There’s an aura to it. There’s a something in that object. But there is something, like you were saying, that is phenomenal about being able to just step into one; to be part of the paintings. So I would say there’s a little bit in it for everybody: Whether you know already a lot about Van Gogh and you enjoy seeing museum experiences. It’s something that’s quite different; that it will take you to another place. It was like me going – living a fantasy of being inside the paintings that I was already familiar with. And if you know nothing about Van Gogh – it’s hard to connect with the museum experience – this is great. It’s fantastic for kids. They get to run around in the space, be free; they’re twirling. I’ve seen adults twirl, as well. There’s something really welcoming about an experience like that.
Dail: I think Mark Zuckerberg would have done a lot better with the Metaverse if he had made it more like this.
Dail: I’m straight serious. This is really because, I mean, I checked it out and I was like, “Ooo!” I was intrigued by what you guys had going on. Essentially, you’ve taken the normal art-museum experience and you’ve put … like you said, [a] cutting-edge technology spin on it. You’ve been one of the creators of this thing; and, in my opinion – and I’m not trying to take anything away from you as being [an] art historian, or museums, and I like libraries, so I get it … .
Dail: But this is way cooler. I mean, way more people, especially younger people, would probably really love this more. You know, I have five kids, so I’m basing that off of knowing them, somewhat. But I think that they would love this way more than if I took them to a standard, regular art museum.
Curtat: And I think there’s sort of an order of things for certain audiences. Like, if you take them to this experience first, and then they have this connection with Van Gogh, if you find yourself in New York and you have a chance to go to MOMA [Museum of Modern Art], and you get to see the original Starry Night, then you’ll have a different connection with it, because you have been in it. So your museum experience will be entirely different.
And it is something that’s very dynamic when it’s immersion-based like this. It’s really about the music, also; it’s really about the movement of it. It’s really all-encompassing. And that’s really welcoming in terms of experiences. It’s literally going towards you instead of you going towards it. And so it is a great introduction to the art world. And Vincent’s work, in and of itself, is so open, it's so welcoming, it’s meant to be communication, it’s meant to share – it’s really about sharing a vision of the world that’s filled with colors, with movement, with healing qualities of nature. It’s something that’s really, in itself, very opening. But through this technology, it allows us to maybe connect, a little bit better, this 19th-century artist with this 21st-century audience, and just show how much there is still to learn from him. How it can be still so powerful and still so inspiring.
Dail: II mean, this is one of the most popular traveling exhibits there is. You guys have sold over five million tickets. Are there other people trying to copy what you’re doing with other artists, or even with Van Gogh? Because I bet if there aren’t, there will be.
Curtat: Oh, there’s already been … . This technology has been around for I would say a decade, and there’s already been other experiences about Van Gogh and immersive experiences. How many exhibits have there been on Van Gogh in regular museums? It’s just countless. And so the same will happen as this technology develops. But in just like a museum experience, it’s all about the angle. You were saying you saw the one with Gaugin, so the museum chose that angle. So every creative team for, you know, even the immersive experience, will also direct the story, tell the narrative, [and] choose different pieces. That’s the thing that’s so great with an experience like this. If you were to go to a regular-experience museum, [it] couldn’t get three hundred paintings of Van Gogh. Just the insurance fee alone would be mind-blowing.
Dail: [laughter] I’ve never thought about that.
Curtat: Exactly. So you can be really creative about the journey you create with his work. And there’s something, in our case, that was really about going beyond the darkness within this … . Van Gogh is usually known for everything that’s dark in his life. Mostly the ear-cutting incident.
Dail: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Gotta get everything.
Curtat: Of course! Exactly! But when you look at his work, you don’t see this darkness; you don’t see all of these challenges. You see ways out of it. You see beauty. You see joy. You see just this powerful, very strong nature, that’s just so incredibly enticing and beautiful. And so, really, it’s about going sort of the dark – beyond the darkness of the myth and into the power of the work itself. And so every exhibit is going to be different. They’re probably all going to have Starry Night, because I think it would be just cruel at that point to not include Starry Night, and to not include the Sunflowers. But there is so much more to see here. And it’s really about going on this journey, and, in our case, it’s really about going on this journey towards light, towards color, movement, everything that works and is so unique and particular to Van Gogh.
Dail: Awesome. It’s just – it’s just such a good idea. That’s what I said: Like, “Wow! This was a really smart thing to do, and especially to attract younger generations into the art world, because … . You know, if it’s not on Tik Tok, they don’t care, right?
Curtat: Yeah! Really!
Dail: [But] I guess this might be the new thing – like, the new way that people go to see art.
Curtat: I think it’s a great bridge towards different ways of experiencing art. I don’t think it will replace; I think it’s just adding. I think it’s just connecting. It’s about connecting the dots in terms of an audience that’s more used to these tools and finding ways of having all of this knowledge and this heritage that all of these great artists left us, and have it resonate with our day-to-day lives. And I think it’s great for that.
Dail: We need more folks like you thinking up neat things like this.
Curtat: [laughter] I can’t take all the credit for it. It was a wonderful team, and Paquin Entertainment Group is really a leader in this type of industry, and Montmartre Studio, the creative studio here in Montreal, is really, really so great;. They’re wizards, at this point. And so it’s really a wonderful thing to come to life.
Dail: So I would recommend [this to] any art fans, any Van Gogh fans, or any parents trying to trick your kids –
Dail: – into a better, more well-rounded experience. Because if you tell them, “Tomorrow, we’re going to an art museum,” they’ll be like, “Uh-h-h-h I don’t know.” At least my kids. They'd probably just look at me. But I could sell this to them and actually get them to go.
Curtat: Well, that’s great. And they can share it on social media: It’s very Instagram-friendly and welcoming, because that’s the way we live now; it’s part of our day-to-day life. Een more so, like you were saying, for younger generations. So I’m glad if it can appeal to a younger crowd. That’s what it’s for.
Dail: Absolutely. Well, Fanny, thank you so much for your time today. Once again, this is going on right now at the RiverCenter. You guys can check this out Mondays through Thursdays 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sundays 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Get your tickets at VanGoghQuadCities.com. It’s Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience, down at the RiverCenter, and it's, I don’t know … super-cool. Super-cool.