Everything You Need to Know Before Visiting Philadelphia’s Van Gogh Experience Pop-Up
The 3-D, audio-visual museum pop-up is up and running in Upper Darby’s Tower Theater.
What is the Van Gogh Experience?
The Van Gogh Experience is an immersive art exhibit all about the life and work of Vincent Van Gogh. The first part of the experience is a typical gallery setup, showing famous and not-so-famous works by Van Gogh. As you walk through, you’ll also find 3-D visuals of his works and other unique presentations. There’s a virtual reality experience where you put on goggles and you’re in a recreation of Van Gogh’s bedroom based off his paintings. Then you walk (virtually) outside to explore his environment that he painted. You see a sight in his town, and then you see a visual of the actual painting inspired by that image. But the real centerpiece of the Van Gogh Experience is a huge hall where you can sit or stand and take in a fascinating seemingly three-dimensional audio-visual presentation about Van Gogh and his artwork. So think of it as a very technologically advanced Van Gogh pop-up museum.
But is the Van Gogh Experience any good?
I was pretty skeptical going into it, to be honest. So basically they’re just projecting a bunch of paintings I’ve seen a million times onto big walls? That was the thought running through my head as I traveled to the venue. But the big room with all of the lights and sounds and projections is a positively thrilling way to experience the work of one of the world’s greatest artists. You’re literally surrounded by his art and by music perfectly synched to the animations. You’ll see a Van Gogh painting on one of the 15,000-square-foot screens and water starts pouring out of it … and it really looks like water is pouring out of it. Even the floor beneath your feet morphs and melts with beautiful imagery. It’s trippy. And it’s a lot to take in. The kind of thing where you might want to go twice to catch what you missed.
I had my 15-year-old, not-particularly-arty son with me and after we sat in the big hall for about 20 minutes, I asked him if he wanted to check out the virtual reality lounge. He said, “No, let’s wait. This is really good.” So take that for what it’s worth. As for the art gallery, you do learn a lot about Van Gogh while in there if you take the time to read what’s on the signage, but as far as art galleries go, I could take it or leave it. (Some of the works have annoying glares from the lighting.) And the VR thing is cool enough.
Where is this all happening?
The iconic Tower Theater in Upper Darby! Actually, it’s a pretty amazing setup. I was wondering how on earth they were going to have a big open hall in that building. Well, they built the entire Van Gogh Experience on platforms above the seats.
All you see as you walk is carpeting, but what’s beneath that carpeting and the structure it covers are the same seats people sat in for decades to watch David Bowie, Prince and Bruce Springsteen perform. And when you’re in the VR lounge, look up. Just a couple of feet above your head is the unmistakable ceiling of the Tower Theater. You’ll recognize it immediately.
Should I bring my kids?
My 15 year old says absolutely. This is definitely a novel way to introduce your kids to an artist. And it’s hard not to find the Experience in the big hall dazzling, no matter your age. There’s also an art room with lots of supplies, so your kid can get all Van Gogh for a bit and take home their own creation. I personally wouldn’t bring little kids (I’d recommend ages 6 and up), especially those with short attention spans. Ultimately, the Van Gogh Experience can be a meditative solo outing, a great date, a night out with friends, or family fun.
When does the Van Gogh Experience start and end?
After some delays, the Van Gogh Experience opened to the general public on Friday, September 3rd. It’s currently scheduled to run through the end of November. Ticket availability can be a little sketchy for September and October, though you can still find tickets, especially if you don’t need to go on a weekend. November is pretty wide open. For now. The buzz is reallllly starting to build, so I would buy your tickets sooner than later. The experience starts at 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. and ends at 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. depending on the day of the week.
How long does it take to get through the whole thing?
We breezed through the gallery in about 10 minutes, though you could certainly spend 30 minutes if you’re looking and reading closely. The show in the big hall runs on a loop that’s about 35 minutes long. I would recommend that you plan on staying for the whole thing. It’s genuinely rewarding. The VR experience takes about 10 minutes. And then there’s the ubiquitous gift shop. Yes, you exit through the gift shop.
How much does the Van Gogh Experience cost?
For standard admission midweek, adults are $39.90 during the day and $44.90 after 5 p.m, while children aged four to twelve are $24.90, no matter the time of day. On weekends, adults are $49.90 and children are $27.90, no matter the time of day. Senior citizens, students aged 13 to 26, or members of the military are $29.90 to $31.90 midweek and $34.90 on weekends. Mercifully, there’s a family pack that grants admission for two adults and two kids that ranges from $101.60 to $124.80, depending on timing. Kids under four are free.
The VR experience is actually a $5 add-on. But there’s a VIP package for $42.40 to $72.40 per person, depending on the time of day and weekday vs. weekend. And that includes the VR with skip-the-line privileges, and a poster of Van Gogh’s art. You can purchase tickets here. Entry is timed. And note that masks are required for all guests.
Is there a bar inside?
It’s the Tower Theater, and there’s always a bar inside the Tower Theater. Van Gogh-themed cocktails are $10 to $15. You’ll pay $6 to $8 for a beer. Wines are $11 for a glass though, notably, you can’t get a glass of red wine. Why? There were concerns that drips and spills would stain the carpet. I dunno. I’d sell the $11 wines and bring in a carpet cleaner, but what do I know?
How do I get there?
The Tower Theater is at 69th and Ludlow streets in Upper Darby. There’s a lot of street parking nearby, though note that the parking authority there is just as brutally efficient as the PPA. There is a parking garage at the intersection of 69th and Chestnut. The Upper Darby municipal lot is at Garrett Road and Long Lane, so about a five minute walk from the Tower Theater. Of course, the 69th Street Terminal of the Market-Frankford line is a block away from the Tower, so public transportation is an easy option.
Is there anything else to do while I’m out that way?
You can easily turn this into a dinner and a show (or lunch and a show) excursion. Pho & Cafe Anh Hong is a quick walk from the Tower and a worthy destination. The Korean supermarket H-Mart is also walkable, and their popular second floor food court offers Korean and Japanese options for a quick meal. For Mexican, hit up La Guera (also walkable). One last walkable choice: the Best of Philly-winning African restaurant Kings & Queens. Or, you could drive or Uber to Pica’s, an iconic Delco Italian restaurant that happens to make Tina Fey’s favorite pizza. Just down the road from Pica’s is Cawley’s for beers and bar food.