Immersive van Gogh not for you? Here are some alternative Denver arts experiences

There’s a lot of buzz about the immersive Vincent van Gogh experiences (yes, there are two of them coming to Denver), and not all of the buzz is good.  While the experiences have traveled internationally, selling out in cities around the world and making for some attractive, colorful photos, they’ve also attracted criticism for being an Instagram trap. One NYT critic called the projections “wall-size screen savers.”

These experiences are popular for a reason. People are fascinated by van Gogh, drawn both to his tragic story and to his artwork. There’s something appealing about the idea of being immersed in the world of his paintings, even if the experiences don’t offer viewers the chance to see any of the originals works in person. And people are itching for a way to experience art and culture after a year in which opportunities for live art experiences were extremely limited.

But if you don’t plan to van-gogh to either immersive experience, here are some local arty alternatives, from immersive narratives to collections of other notable artists’ work.

Shiki Dreams by Prismajic

Prismajic, the team behind the colorful immersive dreamscape Natura Obscura, has a lot more where that came from.

More than 25 artists collaborated on Shiki Dreams, an art project that USA Today recently named the 4th Best Immersive Art Experience in the country. The experience blends visual art, technology and music to immerse visitors in a surreal landscape, an enchanted forest where the mystical yeti Shiki lives with other “Spirits of the Forest.” Guests are encouraged to download the Shiki Dreams app before showing up, and to bring ear buds or headphones.

Museum for Black Girls

This vibrant, artist-designed pop-up exhibition founded by Colorado artist Charlie Billingsley is a celebration of Black Girl Magic. Guests are invited into an immersive and sensory museum designed to highlight the beauty, talent and successes of Black women and girls. The Know reported that the artists wanted to create a joyful, positive space to counter other depictions of Black culture in popular media. This experience is closing in early August, check it out soon.

Memory Mirror at the Denver Art Museum

From local artist Lares Feliciano comes an opportunity to dive into other Denverites’ memories and to examine your own. Installed in the DAM’s Precourt Family Discovery Hall, Memory Mirror is a surreal, immersive, interactive space designed to elicit the memory of a loved one’s living room. Locals are invited to submit memories by sharing photos, objects and audio for Feliciano to compile and incorporate into the exhibit in the form of animations, diorama, audio storytelling and animation.

You can contribute a memory by leaving a voicemail at 720-913-0190, or submit a memory online.

Spectra Art Space’s Novo Ita

This new augmented-reality art experience presented by the Spectra Art Space combines narrative and psychedelic elements to immerse visitors in a fantastical world crafted entirely out of recycled and reclaimed materials.

Brought to Denver by the team behind Spookadelia, Meow Wolf Denver artist Douglas A. Schenck and a team of more than 35 artists, writers, performers and tech professionals, Novo Ita takes guests into a magical, botanical utopia where humans and nature live in harmony. Guests can engage with augmented reality “spirit guides” and wander from installation to installation, where they’ll interact with botanic art, lights and sound to uncover a narrative and learn more about this strange world. You can buy tickets through Aug. 29.

Novo Ita, the new immersive show at Spectra Art Space. June 30, 2021.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Salvador Dali: Gardens of the Mind at Botanic Gardens

Part of the appeal of immersive van Gogh may just be van Gogh himself, whose swirling brush strokes are as famous as the story of the man behind them. If you’re looking to view actual works by an artist as famous as van Gogh, check out Salvador Dali: Gardens of the Mind in Denver’s Botanic Gardens, an exhibition of botanic-inspired works by the surreal artist. Each canvas puts a whimsical, surreal twist on flora, and each is accompanied with sketchy doodles that offer a fun insight into the mind of the artist who did The Persistence of Time. Admission is included with the cost of a Botanic Gardens ticket!

Lumonics Light & Sound Art

If the idea of sitting in a space looking at light and color is what attracted you to immersive van Gogh, we have a local alternative for you. Lumonics is a light and sound experience that’s been around since the 1960s, long before immersive art was considered a “trend.” Their pioneering  light and sound shows have helped some visitors experience breakthroughs, have past-life regressions or talk to loved ones who’ve passed. 

More than 50 years after it formed, the group lives together in a house in Denver. On select Sundays, guests are invited to tour their Light & Sound Gallery, and to sit back and enjoy an immersive light and sound performance.  And on Aug. 21, you can attend Lumonics Immersed, an immersive light and sound tribute to Mel and Dorothy Tanner, the late founders of Lumonics. It’s modeled after the group’s original multisensory performances, and designed to “bring the audience into a state of comfort and expanded awareness,” per the group’s website. You can also book private group performances.

Barry Raphael stands inside Lumonics Light and Sound Gallery in Denver's northern reaches. Dec. 1, 2020.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

The MCA’s Dreaming Denver tour

Last year, the MCA worked to develop a way for museumgoers to safely experience art during the pandemic. Enter Dreaming Denver, a surrealist’s tour of the city. Written and recorded by Mathias Svalina, the audio tour takes guests to major landmarks and odd corners of the city, where they’ll call a number on their phone to listen to a surreal poem inspired by the location. The tour invites you to view the city with new eyes, to layer a fascinating and often funny surrealism onto your experience of Denver. Plus, it’s totally free.

Beer Quest

It’s an improv theater performance. It’s a video game. It’s an interactive drinking game. It’s Beer Quest, a collab between Ryan Foo of WeAreDenver and Rainbow Militia Circus. If it’s immersive you’re looking for, you’ll find it here. It basically functions as a fantasy-themed open world video game, inviting guests to participate in a story, interact with characters, solve riddles, play games, beat a final boss via a motion-based video game, and, of course, drink lots of beer. But you better book now this adventure ends Aug. 1.

The cast of Beer Quest.

The Jo(e)s Photos.

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