Which Van Gogh Should You Go to With Kids?

Vincent Van Gogh is having a New York moment with a pair of "immersive" larger-than-life art exhibits dedicated to the Dutch master. It's hard to walk down the street or hail a cab without being confronted with an ad touting the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit or Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience. Whether you're a long-time fan or intrigued by the promise of being shrouded in Sunflowers or The Starry Night, which Van Gogh should you go to, and what's the difference between the dueling displays?

We've done the legwork for you, checking out both exhibits, and, well, it's complicated. Read on for our rundown before you decide where to (Van) Gogh.

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Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit – Pier 36, Lower East Side

The Basics: The Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit bills itself as the "original" Van Gogh exhibition. Located at Pier 36, it's got a star-studded production team, including creative director David Korins, of Hamilton fame.

What You'll See: The Gallery space here is actually a series of three immersive rooms where you'll witness 500,000-square-feet of animated projections of Van Gogh's works. Some are projected as static pieces, while others seemingly come to life stroke by stroke. A series of mirrored props allow the dazzling show to play with its reflections. The largest of the three galleries has a two-story viewing platform where you can take in the masterpieces with a bird's eye view.

RELATED: MoMA Reopens With Kid-Friendly Art Programs, Family Film, New Galleries

Immersive Van Gogh exhibit at Pier 36
The immersive projections at Pier 36 are punctuated by cool mirrored props that break up the display. 

Standout Extra: While fans will likely love the well-stocked gift shop and kids flip for the cafe where you can get goodies like a fresh doughnut with a tube of ganache to paint an edible masterpiece, the coolest feature outside the immersive experience was The Chromesthesia Experience. Located near the exhibit's exit, visitors are invited to walk through a series of brightly colored booths to experience an audio immersion in the same way the painter reacted to colors: It's widely believed he could hear colors and see sound, leading to his striking style.

Cool Kid-Friendly Perk: An interactive Pocket Gallery is located in the retail area as well, where you can scan a QR code to launch an augmented reality experience that lets you bring one of Van Gogh's works to life.

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Little Girl at The Immersive Van Gogh Experience
Sit and stay awhile at the Immersive van Gogh Experience. 

What it Costs: Tickets start at $29.99 for kids ages 6-16 years old; a basic timed-entry adult ticket is $39.99, and prices rise to as high as $99.99. The experience runs through Monday, September 6, 2021.

Who Should Gogh? Of the two experiences, I found this one to be the most little kid friendly. The visuals are stunning, and the soundtrack is mostly lovely, save a scene where it felt like the cicadas everyone is talking about had found their way inside. It's great for a pretty picture, and it's fun to see your reflection and that of the display in the props. There's also plenty of seating in the largest gallery and a small, mirrored stage where kids were having fun running amok while parents watched the display with one eye and their kids with the other. All told, though, kids will probably tire of the exhibit quicker than you will. My 7-year-old lasted about half an hour before she was ready to move on.

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Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience The Starry Night
Seeing The Starry Night in total immersion is one of the highlights of Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience.

Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience – Skylight on Vesey, Battery Park City

The Basics: Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience had more of a museum feel to it, with three galleries tracing the artist's development and life story. Giant fact-filled placards hang in the first two exhibition spaces before you ever encounter the finale: total immersion.

RELATED: The Met with Kids: Exploring NYC's Biggest Art Museum

Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience has a gallery-like feel
At Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience, you'll see many re-creations of the master's works before stepping inside the immersion space.

What You'll See: I learned much more about the artist at this exhibit, which provided more food for thought when I walked into the immersive gallery. After taking in a study of the artist's "Vases" series, where a 3D vase hangs on a wall, and you see the evolution of his paintings animated in an ever-changing video, and exploring 3D paintings and a re-creation of his bedroom, you could actually step inside, the art on the walls fell flat. Many of his most famous pieces are given gallery treatment, but after seeing The Starry Night at MoMA, the poster-board knockoff failed to impress. That being said, there's much less risk in letting little ones creep close to the paintings here than at one of NYC's famed institutions! In the immersive gallery, which is 20,000 square feet, I settled into a lounge chair and kicked back to enjoy the show. You'll see many more vignettes here than complete paintings, but the show and soundtrack were entrancing, and The Starry Night immersion made up for its less-than-enchanting model in the prior gallery.

Standout Extra: If you didn't get enough immersion in the gallery, you can go on a Virtual Reality tour of Arles, France, with Van Gogh as your guide and watch as the landscape is magically framed into his famous paintings.

RELATED: The Best Children’s Museum in Every State

Table for coloring at Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience
Feeling inspired after the exhibit? Plenty of crayons—and hand sanitizer—await outside. 

Cool Kid-Friendly Perk: Let the art be your inspiration for the tables full of coloring sheets and crayons once you leave the immersive gallery. Calming task lighting and plenty of seats give you room to plop down and bring Van Gogh's pieces to light with your own hands. Once you're done, scan them to be added to the digital gallery on the wall.

What it Costs: Individual tickets start at $19.90 for children and rise to $34.90; adult tickets range from $36-$54.50. Family four-packs are also available. The exhibit runs through Sunday, October 21,4, 2021. 

Who Should Gogh? Because there was so much historical and biographical information packed into the first two galleries, I'd say this exhibition is more big-kid friendly. I couldn't imagine reading all the info to my youngest daughter—nor would I want to explain some of it to her. My visit here did last longer than the other exhibit, but I took my time reading all the info and found the immersive gallery enchanting; had I not needed to get back to work, I would have lingered for another loop of the show, or at least another look at The Starry Night.

All photos by author

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