We Tried It: “Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience” in Hawai‘i
The animated exhibition at the Hawai‘i Convention Center was a hit for my young family.
What: A media preview of an indoor multimedia art exhibit
Who: A mom, her 2-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter
Where: Hawai‘i Convention Center
When: Wednesday morning at 10 a.m.
We’re a creative family—on any given day, my daughter, Anna, is elbow-deep in paints, craft glue and glitter. Which is why the idea of an animated, immersive art exhibit like Beyond Van Gogh piqued our interest immediately—it sounds much more entertaining than your typical museum visit, especially for young kids! We were thrilled to be invited to the media preview held two days before the exhibit opened to the public.
I found parking easily on a Wednesday morning in the Hawai‘i Convention Center’s parking structure, though, again, we went before the public crowds. My 2-year-old, Noah, is in a test-all-boundaries and constantly-trying-to-escape phase right now (send coffee ASAP) so I plopped him into the stroller. The staff at the convention center right at the parking exit checked our temperatures before we entered the building. They were kind enough to point us to where the elevators were: Head to our right and go down to the lobby.
It was easy to find the exhibit with the banner signs and a van Gogh-painted BMW in front of the exhibit hall’s closed doors. Since it was a media preview, they let guests in only three at time so we would have more of a chance to take pictures without other folks in the shot. I’m not sure if this procedure would be the same for the public event, but this meant there was a long line and my son got antsy waiting. We killed time with gummy snacks and by watching “Octonauts” on my phone.
When it was our turn to enter, Anna exclaimed: “This is SO cool!” I have to admit, my first thoughts were: “Thank God for AC.” Frames of different shapes and sizes hang from the ceiling, and Anna had fun posing and peeking through them. There are screens that share history of van Gogh’s life and how he got started as a painter. Classical music plays. You can read poetic quotes and excerpts of his letters to his younger brother, Theo. We took the time to read a few of them together out loud and I did my best to ELI5 (Explain Like I’m 5): “He was a very famous artist! He was Dutch! He liked to paint, like you!”
After a while, though, my kids lost interest with reading—older keiki may enjoy learning more—so we moved quickly ahead to a darkened room with moving projections on the wall. A long hallway awaits as you exit, and then you head into the main attraction, which is the actual immersion experience.
It’s a huge room with moving projections of van Gogh’s paintings swirling on the floor, walls and the three large columns in the center. Cue Anna dancing, jumping, running, playing shadow puppets and thoroughly enjoying herself. She LOVED it! Classical music plays in the background and sometimes you can hear quotes by van Gogh and others. As an adult, I was impressed with how the room was carefully planned to look three-dimensional. Tiny details like blinking portraits made the art come alive. Rough pencil sketches would gradually fill in with color and shades to show the artist’s process.
Noah was in awe and perhaps a little overwhelmed by it all, so he actually stayed put the entire time in the stroller. I did try taking him out to see if he wanted to walk around, but my typically rambunctious kid preferred to stay and watch everything from his secure vantage point.
We hung around for about 15 minutes and the kids were ready to leave. Anna’s favorite was the “Beeeeeyuuuuutiful flowers!” which would eventually seem to melt back into paint. Mine was the familiar “Starry Night”—the room dramatically went dark and stars from the painting slowly appeared. After our exit, we passed through a gift shop that offered shirts, tote bags, masks and the like.
Overall, it was a great experience for our little group, especially for my older one, who says she wants to return and bring more friends next time to “dance with the flowers.”
Our 5 Tips:
1. Use the bathroom. There are no bathrooms inside the art exhibit, and once you leave, you won’t be able to head back in, so go before you Gogh! The restrooms outside the exhibit have a baby changing station. The ones after you exit the elevator in the lobby are close to a nursing pod where moms can breastfeed their babies.
2. No food or drinks. You can bring water, but keep masks on. Leave your snacks in the car, stroller or backpack. If you are going during lunch or dinner hour, try feed your kids beforehand so they won’t be hungry during the experience.
3. Don’t touch the projections. We know, it’s SO tempting for kids to touch the moving walls, screens and even the hanging frames in the first part of the exhibit! Anna definitely tried. But we were warned by staff in the immersion room to not touch the walls. Shadow puppets are OK! Just no direct contact.
4. Take your time. The exhibit is one-way, so don’t leave unless you’re good and ready. There are more than 300 of van Gogh’s works on display and tickets aren’t cheap – make the most of your visit!
5. Keep an eye out. The immersive room is large and dimly lit, so make sure you stay with your group and keep track of your keiki.