Innovation in a time of great uncertainty – Van Gogh Alive

Bruce Peterson is the owner and founder of Grande Exhibitions, and the creator of Van Gogh Alive. Opening in Australia for the first time ever in a matter of weeks, this remarkable feat is made even more impressive by the fact that it is during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In case you missed it, Van Gogh Alive is a large-scale, multi-sensory experience with a display of over 3,000 enormous projections of Van Gogh’s entire collection of work beamed across walls, columns and floors, set to a classical score, and enhanced with aroma and video. Being the proud recipient of my primary school’s art prize – a Van Gogh biography, and a visual arts aficionado, I was delighted to ask Peterson more about his show, and how it’s been able to go ahead despite the current conditions.

Bruce Peterson speaking into microphone in front of projected images of Van Gogh's artwork
Bruce Peterson

I wanted to find out how he was feeling ahead of the September launch in Sydney. He shared that he had very mixed feelings. The initial plan had been to premiere the show in Melbourne, however, an opportunity presented itself for Van Gogh Alive to open first in Sydney, so they pursued this avenue. The irony is that the Melbourne-based team is now in lockdown and are unable to physically attend the launch in their neighbouring capital, Sydney. And while there is a tinge of sadness in this for the team, they should feel proud that it’s going ahead at all.

Peterson explains that they have been able to remain on the world circuit because of the proactive way his team approached the COVID-19 pandemic. Sitting down, back in March to address the problem head-on, they were able to innovate a new approach. This took almost two months, but instead of having to wait the pandemic out, they are now all set with a plan. They were prepared to remotely install their extremely complex multi-sensory experiences, using unknown overseas crews. What would normally be a supervised install requiring travelling staff skilled in the specialist equipment, now happens from the home office with staff wearing head-cams directing traffic virtually.

It’s a huge innovation for the team and it’s one of the reasons why we still have nine exhibitions going on around the world. We can only do that by being flexible and innovative in what we are able to do and deliver, Peterson said

Peterson and his team have ample lived experiences of COVID challenges. Living through fluctuating Melbourne lockdowns and enduring the temporary shutdown of their Leonardo da Vinci experience in Rome has increased their awareness tenfold.

The experience itself thrives in this COVID environment because it’s about as COVID-compliant and aware as you can get, he explains.

Grande Exhibitions cares greatly about the safety and wellbeing of its audience. Their website clearly states what people can expect, the safety measures in place, and reassures them regarding purchasing tickets, attending and cancellation policies. Peterson puts this down to a combination of insight, foresight, understanding and knowing his customers.

We worked out pretty early on that, yes, this is about Vincent Van Gogh, and we know people want to see Vincent Van Gogh but what they don’t know is if it’s going to be safe to go and see him. So, we are promoting that aspect as much as the experience, he said.

I asked why Grande Exhibitions had selected the work of Vincent. Their other multi-sensory experiences feature artists such as Monet and da Vinci, and broader themes such as sharks, inventions, and Alice in Wonderland.

Vincent was the first; and the one we really wanted to do. Vincent, in terms of fine art, was the first and is hard to beat because what we are doing in a multi-sensory approach is telling a story without narrating a story. We are connecting people with Vincent and his art through the image, the moving image, the music, and aroma in the space – all these senses working together to create an emotional connection. The visitor gets an amplified response and Vincent’s emotional journey marries well with this.

The multi-sensory approach is a different format of storytelling that is inclusive. Beyond the traditional introductory area that provides an overview of Vincent and his journey, there is no spoken word. The audience is free to respond and travel through the experience, losing themselves in their favourite paintings, or discovering the artist for the first time. I hear how children run through laughing in delight at all the moving colours, while others are moved to tears.

Van Gogh Alive exhibition

Visited by 6 million people across 50 cities around the world including Rome, Milan, Berlin, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Moscow and many more, Van Gogh Alive elicits all kinds of heightened reactions. Most importantly to Peterson, it provides a positive introduction to arts and culture.

He expands, explaining “I am driven to make sure that art and culture is for all people, its not just for the elite or the curatorial custodians of the fine art, or for people that can afford it. It should be accessible for everybody to enjoy without being intimidating. We are not trying to replace the art museums or the original works. We are trying to open it up to more audiences.”

After 15 years of creating and producing experiential exhibits, Peterson’s favourite moments are sitting in foreign countries on opening day and soaking up audiences responses. After all, the greatest satisfaction that a creator can have is that visitor reaction.

We haven’t had over 6 million visitors to this exhibition because this isn’t something special – it is very special. I’m looking forward to Australian audiences appreciating something created by an Australian company that is on the world circuit and is world class. The proudest moment is yet to come, and that is when we share it with our family here.

He finishes;

All you want to do as a person in arts and culture it to positively influence people and make a difference. We were the first company who redefined how art and cultured can be displayed and remain the number one in terms of global reach. What we are currently seeing is an embracing of art and culture by people who might not get into it otherwise. We’ve taken a really popular, timeless artist like Vincent and we’ve bridged the gap with the modern audience, providing an unforgettable first experience for those that don’t know him”.

Van Gogh Alive opens on Friday 18 September 2020 for a strictly limited COVID-aware season at The Royal Hall of Industries. has THREE double passes to giveaway here.

Tickets and more information available at

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