Opinion: How I met Vincent Van Gogh and its future for licensing

It was at the opening of the Van Gogh Museum’s newest UK venture, the Meet Vincent van Gogh experience along London’s South Bank last night, that a glimpse into the high-spec future of immersive licensing was offered.

A collaboration of efforts between Holland’s Van Gogh Museum and the UK’s own Golden Tours, the three month exhibition comes with a big promise; to give art lovers and families an all immersive insight into the life – and mind – of one of history’s most celebrated artists.

And it’s a promise on which the Van Gogh Museum – first established in 1973 and now watched over by the Van Gogh family, relations of the Dutch artist himself – truly delivers; bringing visitors as close to the talent and his family – short of meeting the man himself – as is possible.

In a statement to opening night visitors, Mikesh Palan, the managing director of Golden Tours, with whom The Van Gogh Museum has partnered to bring the UK leg of the experience’s global tour to life, riffed off the company’s own mission statement, that tourism is the only business that brings cultures together.

I believe now that a caveat can be respectfully added to the sentiment, and that is that licensing, tastefully done with as much care, attention, and scrutiny as carried by those presiding over the Van Gogh estate, can do it just as well.

Today, more so than ever, the most successful licenses know that key to it all is a brand’s ability to tell a story. There’s certainly no lack of storytelling when families put on their headsets and step straight into a story of love, vision, and a relationship between Vincent Van Gogh and his brother Theo, all while walking through, engaging with and becoming part of the art work that has made Van Gogh (although visitors learn he’d rather be known as Vincent) the revered artists, and by extension, the brand, he is.

Families and art fans are invited, if not actively encouraged, to engage with the installations around them – whether that is touching the walls, the table and chairs of a Parisian cafĂ© setting, the hay bales of the Wheat Field, become the Potato Eaters by getting their hands quite literally on the focal point of the famous painting, or scale the walls of the Yellow House with their eyes as they peer into – and out of – some of the most significant windows of Vincent’s life.

A chilling walk through the passages of the asylum the artist spent a year of his life within takes visitors on a deeper journey of Van Gogh’s mind as it battles those famed psychotic episodes that encompassed the ‘Yellow Years’, and draws empathy from an audience that, in Meet Vincent Van Gogh, finds a new way to engage with art and artistry.

All of this, of course, positions Meet Vincent Van Gogh as the perfect platform from which audiences can continue their love affair with the work of the artist in a gift shop that could just as easily be a part of the exhibition itself, so seamlessly does it transition from 1890 and the death of Van Gogh, and the legacy that his art left behind him.

Were I an art critic, I’d be singing my excitement for the future of art exhibition from the roof of the National Theatre that this experience sits tucked behind. For the licensing community however, this is a prime example of immersive entertainment done the right way. Now, time to go and get my hands on all that merchandise.