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Back on… Van Gogh’s Palette at the Musée d’Orsay, with Agnès Abastado

The exhibition “Van Gogh in Auvers-sur-Oise. The Final Months” recently closed at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, with great public acclaim for this presentation of the artist’s last weeks and his prolific artistic output. During the four months of the exhibition, visitors could also discover a virtual reality experience, VAN GOGH’S PALETTE (a Lucid Realities, Tournez S’il Vous Plait, VIVE Arts & Musée d’Orsay production, directed by Gordon and Agnès Molia) which plunged them into the last weeks of Vincent Van Gogh’s life.

VAN GOGH’S PALETTE attracted 40,000 spectators over the duration of the exhibition. This impressive figure is due to the Musée d’Orsay’s implementation and promotion efforts, with Unframed Collection providing operational support.The experience was presented next to the exhibition entrance, with a reception desk selling tickets directly to visitors who had not booked in advance. A proposal that paid off, as a third of all tickets sold for the VR experience were sold via this option.

VAN GOGH’S PALETTE, an innovative co-production with the Musée d’Orsay

Agnès Abastado – Over the past few years, innovation and digital technology have become increasingly important at the Musée d’Orsay and the Orangerie. And this has led to a real paradigm shift: we are no longer producing content to support our communications, but rather devices in their own right that are fully integrated into our strategy and programming. The VAN GOGH PALETTE experiment, and the next Impressionist experience (currently on show), are the best examples of this. These hybrid objects, both mediations and creations in their own right, complete our offer to the public.

Agnès Abastado – Exploring these new worlds is a change of method for us, but not a new discovery. We already co-produce traditional documentaries to accompany the museum or certain exhibitions. Developing audiovisual or digital content is therefore not a revolution (either legal or administrative), even if the innovation here is important. We prefer to work in partnership to produce these ambitious projects, because we couldn’t do it alone. We therefore rely on specialized production companies who can provide additional financing and manufacturing processes. All in a true spirit of collaboration and common exchange on the subjects tackled! By the way, VAN GOGH’S PALETTE is a project that Tournez S’il Vous Plaît (TSVP) initiated in collaboration with Lucid Realities.

Agnès Abastado – Whether commissioned or co-produced, they are integrated into our offering thanks to a strong thematic link with museum collections or programming. In the latter case, however, there’s a real extension to the question of distribution. This is something new for us, as it requires specific technical resources. The objective for projects like VAN GOGH’S PALETTE (also co-produced with HTC VIVE Arts) is to see the work continue to circulate after its presentation in our walls. The aim is to attract a loyal audience to the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée de l’Orangerie, but also to reach out to other audiences (in particular new audiences who will come primarily for the innovation), as well as to non-audiences in other venues in France and abroad. This helps to promote our collections and knowledge.

Agnès Abastado – In late 2023, for example, we presented a “short” version of VAN GOGH’S PALETTE, focusing on the last few weeks of Van Gogh’s life, in direct connection with the exhibition “Van Gogh at Auvers-sur-Oise. Les derniers mois” exhibition. A longer, 20-minute version presents more about the artist, and will therefore be more suitable for presentation outside our exhibition and in other venues. It’s a real strategy to reach out to other territories, other places like VR arcades, with adapted content. 10 minutes without the adjoining exhibition (which was presented before us in Amsterdam without the VR part, and will not be repeated) could prove a little frustrating. And it brings more information if the context doesn’t complement it, as we can do within the walls.

Agnès Abastado – We worked well in advance to be able to present VAN GOGH’S PALETTE next to the exhibition entrance. And in the heart of a museum like Orsay, it’s not easy to set up this type of configuration, which seems logical at first glance. The layout was obviously discussed well in advance, so that these 90 square meters could be at the entrance to “Van Gogh à Auvers-sur-Oise. The last months”. In the end, it paid off, given the success of the experiment with our visitors.

Agnès Abastado – Today, we’re proud to produce quality virtual reality content. For us, this has to be done in the public interest, and without compromising on the scientific quality as well as the narrative and experiential quality that this type of proposition can bring. At the end of the Van Gogh exhibition, all the feedback we received from visitors indicated that they felt we had the legitimacy to offer this type of experience. And as a public institution and research center, we feel it’s important to support innovation and creation in France by collaborating with producers such as Lucid Realities, GEDEON Experiences and Emissive, who offer rich new narrative experiences. Especially when we see the talent of our French studios, in an ecosystem (VR, AR, MR…) that also interests us.

Agnès Abastado – It should be remembered that the Musée d’Orsay has several missions, including the presentation of works of art, but also the scientific and artistic influence of the subjects it deals with. Taking part in the development of these new digital and virtual environments is important. The Musée d’Orsay’s scientific input is essential, in the sense that it guarantees the final quality of the experience. Our work with exhibition curators is in line with this, with regular exchanges even before a project is validated. We need to agree on the scientific relevance of the project, and find the right place for it within a complete program. It’s also a job for our museum teams to discover these new formats, get used to them, and understand what they can do with them. We gradually arouse their curiosity.

Towards a museum-based distribution model?

Agnès Abastado – VAN GOGH’S PALETTE is a project whose operating model has been carefully thought through, and it’s a success in the end, with 40,000 spectators in four months. When we launched the project, there were a lot of questions to be answered – and often no model for comparison. Together with the teams from Unframed Collection, Lucid Realities’ distribution subsidiary, we devised a system based on our respective experiences. For example, most previous VR experiences in museums were free, with no timestamps. For our part, we made other choices, enabling us to accommodate a maximum number of viewers.

Agnès Abastado – Just because we present innovative digital content doesn’t mean it has to be free. The public is used to paying extra for audioguides, guided tours or activities, in the store… For VAN GOGH’S PALETTE, a 6-euro ticket was required in addition to the museum entrance fee. This also had the advantage of being able to control the filling of the space (especially by avoiding last-minute absences…). On the other hand, it’s still too complex to combine both virtual reality and traditional exhibitions. Visitors shouldn’t be forced to do both, and the capacity of the exhibition was also much higher. In terms of mediation, we need to offer diversified content and tools to reach the widest possible audience.

Agnès Abastado – The reception desk in front of the VR room was put in place at start-up, but proved to be very effective on the operational side. With our time stamp and gauge, we were on the low end in terms of visits, which sometimes left seats unoccupied. Some visitors discovered the existence of the experience once they’d entered. Last-minute ticket purchases and overbooking were therefore possible on the spot. So it was very practical!

Towards future projects … ?

Agnès Abastado – This spring, we’re celebrating 150 years of the Impressionist movement, and the Musée d’Orsay is staging a major exhibition around this theme. To accompany this, we’re doubling up on this subject with TONIGHT WITH THE IMPRESSIONISTS. PARIS 1874, an immersive expedition produced by Excurio and GEDEON Experiences that will cover over 650 square meters.


© Unframed Collection – 2023

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