A Conversation With Bruce Peterson

An Interview With Van Gogh Alive's Curator and CEO of Grande Experiences

The works of Vincent Van Gogh are some of the world’s most iconic masterpieces, and despite the tragic story around his life, millions upon millions have been inspired by his creations. While it is not necessarily possible to travel to the Van Gogh Museum in the Netherlands to gaze upon his original works, those in Australia from this year have the opportunity to experience his works through a multi-sensory experience helmed by Melbourne-based Grande Experiences. At the moment, Van Gogh Alive is now being presented at Northshore Brisbane, before heading to Canberra in March 2022.

While due to busy schedules and other fun and games this Q&A was delayed for a few weeks, I finally got to pitch some questions to Grand Experiences CEO and curator of Van Gogh Alive, Bruce Peterson, about the tour, it being held in Brisbane and more. Scroll down for the full transcript of the interview:

For those who may not know much about you or Grande Experiences, can you share a bit about your history in this space?

I started Grande Exhibitions (as we were known then) in 2006, with our inaugural exhibition on Leonardo da Vinci. It was whilst in Italy and France in 2007 researching and creating what has become the largest and most comprehensive travelling exhibition on Leonardo (we have five touring Leonardo da Vinci exhibitions now), that I noticed a change in the way visitors, particularly children and younger adults, were engaging with museums and galleries – or should I say lack of engagement.

We would be no more than five minutes inside a world-famous museum, and I would be getting a tug on the hip pocket to leave and go eat gelato instead! Much more exciting for my kids. It was while quizzing them a little later as to why they weren’t engaged that I learned their disinterest came from the lack of movement and sound; the silent and static environment was just not comfortable or exciting for them. This was my “uh-huh” moment and it set Grande on a pathway to redefine the way art and culture is experienced by audiences globally.

Five years later in 2011, we premiered the first iteration of Van Gogh Alive inside the ArtScience Museum in Singapore. Today, a further 10 years on, we are very proud to have initiated 210 experiences around the world, displayed in 165 cities, across 6 continents, in 32 languages and enjoyed by over 20 million visitors.

With so many acclaimed artists to choose from, why Van Gogh, and why did you see his works lending itself to the multisensory experience?

While his career only spanned 10 years, Van Gogh was an incredibly prolific artist and painted a range of different landscapes, people and portraits – 880 in total. Our Van Gogh Alive experience includes over 3,000 images of his masterpieces, sketches and drawings and inspirational landscapes at enormous scale. The vibrant colours and vivid details that constitute Van Gogh’s unique style lends itself so well to our SENSORY4TM technology, allowing visitors to examine the colours and techniques of his work in fine detail.

Van Gogh’s battle with mental health is also incredibly pertinent. It is important to us that we use our technology to shed light on such an important topic. Through our multi-sensory approach to art and culture, we can stimulate all of the human senses together to tell a story and really impact people, emotionally.

What are some of your favourite works featured in Van Gogh Alive? 

I would be lying if I said The Starry Night wasn’t one of my favourite paintings by Vincent van  Gogh. It’s so striking and dramatic and truly embodies all of the emotions he was feeling at  that time in his life. It’s a beautiful piece and looks incredible in our SENSORY 4™ gallery. It’s a real highlight for our visitors all around the world. 

Being a multisensory experience, there would obviously be a lot of technology involved  in bringing this exhibition to life. What are some of the highlights in the technological  space to you?  We have recently started introducing aroma into our experiences, to heighten the sense of  being immersed in the artworks and landscapes of the artist. For instance, Van Gogh Alive  incorporates scents such as nutmeg, cypress, cedarwood, musk and many more, which all  synchronise together with the moving visuals and music to transport visitors back to the time of  Vincent van Gogh. For us, this is incredibly exciting technology as it means we can continue  pushing the boundaries for immersive, multi-sensory experiences.  

COVID-19 has clearly put a spanner in the works of many exhibitions and productions  over the last two years. What steps have been put in place to ensure that guests are safe when visiting Van Gogh Alive?

Our top priority is to ensure the safety of our visitors and staff. Van Gogh Alive Brisbane  provides a safe, contact-free environment. Our experiences are designed to be a personal  journey of exploration, allowing visitors to naturally self-distance. Capacity is easily managed through staggered entry times and the entire customer journey is designed to be contactless,  from ticket purchase through to the retail store.  

Do you expect to see more exhibitions from Grande Experiences making their way to Brisbane in the near future? 

Absolutely, as a Melbourne-based company we love being able to share our experiences with audiences across Australia.  

Finally, what advice do you have for those looking to follow in your footsteps?

It’s all about authenticity and innovation. Always remain true to your values and what you  believe in. It’s definitely cliché, but I think the key to success (both professionally and personally) is to use your skills and passions to make the world a better place for everyone,  no matter how big or small the impact might be.

Thank you to Bruce Peterson for his time in responding to my questions. I also thank the exhibition’s Brisbane publicist Cinnamon Watson for facilitating this.

Header Image: Photo Credit: Grande Experiences

Founder of The Otaku's Study. I have been exploring this labyrinth of fandom these last fifteen years, and still nowhere close to the exit yet. Probably searching for a long time to come.

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