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Wonder, Vertigo, Yoga and Other Things to Expect at Beyond Van Gogh

People will fall in love in this room. Legions of selfies will be born.

Take a child to Beyond Van Gogh, but take a child who doesn’t get car sick. If you have a friend who is prone to tripping—but who nevertheless adores Post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh’s series of sunflower paintings—keep them within catching-reach.

Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience is a gorgeous exhibit and valuable on a cultural level, but it is not without its trip-ups.

Created by French-Canadian visual designer Mathieu St-Arnaud—and his Chicago-based Studio Normal—the exhibit uses inventive projection technology to break the awe-inspiring yet stationary works of van Gogh out of their frames and onto the walls of a massive room, surrounding the viewer.

While I’m not convinced of the show’s educational elements, I wholeheartedly respect its more promethean aspects—repackaging the works of art so they can be marveled over by fans, new and familiar.

The exhibit debuted in Miami in the spring of this year and has slowly been winding its way through most larger cities. Presented in dark, curtained corridors within an Oregon Convention Center hall, the show is broken up into three parts, building up to the final Experience Room where people will want to spend the most time and take the most selfies.

But firstly: the danger.

Upon entering, visitors will find themselves in an Information Hall: a darkened room with illuminated stations, presenting a light biographical outline of van Gogh’s career. These are essentially giant, glowing text placards and most of the information they contain mixes the exhibit’s own aspirations with quotes from letters van Gogh wrote to his younger brother, Theo. Without those letters we wouldn’t know much about van Gogh’s interior life. But the room is on more of a pump-up mission than one to actually explore the artist as a person. The quotes amount to greeting-card sentiments, the man’s letters reduced to inspirational phrasing.

Audiences are meant to snake along a path between the bright displays and artfully placed empty frames, hanging from the ceiling. It’s a well-designed space aesthetically, but it’s also very tempting to walk between the display boards, which have covered electrical cords running between them. You’ll want to mind any and all of your clumsy friends.

Transitioning out of the hall, you’ll find yourself in the second space, the Waterfall Room, where renderings of van Gogh swirls bleed from the ceiling, down the wall and onto the floor. Multiple projectors make it possible to feel like you’re inside a river of color, a taste of what is to come when you enter the final Experience Room.

The last room is the largest, and it’s where people will want to spend most of their time. Employing countless projectors, animations of van Gogh’s works flitter across the walls and onto two central pillars. The presentation is on a loop, but different areas of the room repeat works so you don’t have to cover all that ground to see everything. Images are interspersed with whole-room immersions of, say, floating petals in the style of van Gogh’s Almond Blossoms, or the swirls of The Starry Night, which whirl about the room and across the floor.

I am not prone to vertigo, but this room had that effect on me. The Portland media contact assured me that I was completely alone in my disorientation and that when the room is full of more people, the effect is negated.

It’s fitting that some of the exhibit is scored by Max Richter’s Spring 3, a reimagining of Vivaldi’s Spring. Richter’s 2012 Recomposed sampled and rearranged all of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, reintroducing the masterpieces to audiences watching films or series like The Crown. It provided a successful avenue for a whole new generation to get hype about Vivaldi.

A similar exchange is unfolding at Beyond Van Gogh. While only a third of the paintings are rendered with enough detail to be able to see the brushwork. And the image transitions that appear stroked onto the walls by ghostly paintbrushes are too formulaic—too much like a star wipe—to actually take an influence from van Gogh’s impasto style. What remains are his compositions, his color work. There’s a lot to draw from and even more to be curious about or inspired by.

St-Arnaud (who has designed video backdrops for Justin Timberlake, the Killers and Linkin Park) deserves accolades for transmuting the works into such captivating displays. People will fall in love in this room. Legions of selfies will be born.

It’s also worth noting that the exhibit will soon offer 50-minute yoga sessions inside the Experience Room, starting Dec. 2. Each class will be taught by one of three local studios: Firelight Yoga, Yoga Refuge or Now Yoga. Though the cost for each session is a corpse-pose-inducing $56.99, the studios are all donating their cut of the classes to nonprofits: Holla Mentors, Rose Haven and Raphael House.

GO: Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience, Oregon Convention Center, 777 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., vangoghportland.com. 10 am-10 pm daily, through Jan. 9. $36.99-$93.99