In 1882, eight years before he committed suicide, Vincent van Gogh confided to his brother, Theo, in a letter: “I want to reach the point where people say of my work, that man feels deeply and that man feels subtly.” Little did Van Gogh know that more than 100 years later, his artistry would move spectators through large, animated screens at venues all over the world—and now in the small Gulf country of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
In the midst of the ongoing pandemic, Infinity des Lumières opened on 1 July at the Dubai Mall as the largest digital art centre in the Middle East. Occupying 2,700 sq. m, the space is equipped with 130 projectors and 58 speakers. The venue is a multi-national collaboration between Dubai's culture ministry, Culturespaces in France, and the Belgian technology company Barco.
Culturespaces has digital art venues in France (in Paris, Bordeaux and Les Baux-de-Provence) and South Korea and is due to open a new space in New York in 2022. Meanwhile, there are several similar companies creating digital experiences, including teamLab and PaceX, and Van Gogh in particular is a popular choice for such shows.
Alongside Dubai's immersive installation of Van Gogh’s universally beloved paintings of sunflowers, self-portraits and starry nights, is a show of Japanese art where Hokusai’s iconic, claw-like waves wash over at your feet. An all-sensory viewing experience, the moving images are accompanied by an eclectic selection of music, from Vivaldi to Nina Simone.
The centre is meant to be accessible to everyone, from children running freely into Van Gogh landscapes to people in wheelchair. It is an attempt, according to the organisers, to “democratise art”. However, the 125AED (around £25) ticket price for an adult makes it a pricey experience for some Dubai residents. Selfie takers are obviously turning out in force: there is even a spot, right in front of the ‘Mirror Room’, that reads: “Here, Best Selfie Ever.”
With its focus on technology and innovation, Dubai is a befitting home for Infinity des Lumières. More of the city's futuristic vision with be on display in a few months when the long-awaited Dubai Expo 2020 opens, hosting 191 country pavilions.