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‘Starry Night’ dog bowls and other tragedies: The merch of ‘Immersive Van Gogh’

An illustration of gift shop items sold at "Immersive Van Gogh."
“Starry Night” dog bowl, pun-printed onesie and sunflower bucket hat: They’re all part of the hustle at “Immersive Van Gogh.”
(Claire Reid/ Los Angeles Times; molotovcoketail/GettyImages)

WWVGD? What would Van Gogh do? That’s the question when it comes to the “Immersive Van Gogh” show that switched on its high-powered lights Thursday in Los Angeles.

A humble guess as to the artist’s WWVGD answer: Run far away (or at least to the nearest absinthe bar).

Taking place in the former Amoeba Records store on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, the relentlessly publicized art event features monstrously large projections of the misunderstood Post-Impressionist’s famous canvases. Step into “Starry Night,” wander through “Irises,” hustle up to the table of “The Potato Eaters.”

Have you seen a selfie of your high school girlfriend inside of one of Van Gogh’s sunflowers? Chances are the shot was taken at an “Immersive Van Gogh” exhibit. Which raises the question: Are guests attending to stand in awe of the paintings, or to add a jolt of color to their Instagram feeds?

And more importantly: Are you experiencing art if what you’re seeing is the projected equivalent of walking through a poster shop filled with reproductions?

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The Los Angeles iteration, which had to postpone its opening while waiting for safety clearance from the L.A. Fire Department, costs $40 or $50 (plus ticketing fees) a pop — more than twice what you’d pay to stand in front of the actual “Starry Night” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Art is commerce, so in this most commercial of art affairs, we thought it made sense to rate the offerings in the gift shop — reproductions you can hold, wear and turn into a TikTok prop.

The Times got a sneak peek inside the “Immersive Van Gogh” show as it was being installed. Here’s what to expect when it opens Saturday.

Van Gogh might have felt despondent if he knew the almond blossoms he labored over would be turned into a shower curtain or (drum roll, please): Van Goghgurt.

Just kidding. Really, Van Goghgurt is seemingly the only thing that the marketing wizards behind “Immersive Van Gogh” missed when they put together their panoply of Van Gogh-themed products. We’ve picked half a dozen to rank from worse to worst.

6. Face shield, $29.99
Although we applaud the public-health-forward messaging of the face shield, we are appalled by the price for this piece of foam-lined plastic topped by a band of Van Gogh self-portraits. Also: A face shield is pointless without a mask. Good thing the gift shop features those in three styles: Ninja, pleated and the ever-popular snood.

5. Sunflower bucket hat, $29.99
Van Gogh would never have worn a bucket hat, and neither should you.

4. “Starry Night” jar opener, $20
Shop the store long enough and you will sense a theme, and that theme is “Starry Night.” You could take home this jar opener featuring sturdy silicone grips, sure to help you foist open the lid of even the most stubborn jar of Ragu pasta sauce, artfully.

3. “Gogh to Sleep Darling” baby onesie, $25
There isn’t even a picture of a painting to redeem the terrible word play on this onesie — which is the same plain-white you find at every baby shower you’ve ever gone to. At least the art that guests draw on the onesies at showers is usually interesting, or has something meaningful to say, like, “Poop master in training.”

2. “Starry Night” expandable dog bowls, set of two, $30
We have to draw the line somewhere out of respect for the deeply sensitive man who, in a letter to his brother Theo, wrote: “So, frankly, I shall not blame you for telling me candidly that you don’t think my work is good enough … but if you put it away in a corner somewhere and do not show it, it isn’t kind to couple that with the assurance — which is not accepted — that you yourself see something in it.”

If Van Gogh was pained by the thought of his work in a dusty corner, imagine how he’d feel about someone putting it on a collapsible dog bowl.

1. Bomber jacket, $219.99
This collaboration between “Immersive Van Gogh” and Bibisma Apparel, which recently disappeared from the online store, made the bottom of the list for its outrageous price as well as for the inexplicable ad copy accompanying it. Van Gogh’s name is mixed with a catchphrase from the Pixar film “Toy Story” as potential buyers are encouraged to “Gogh to infinity and beyond.” The artist is also referred to as the “original Starboy,” which is kind of like calling Monet the “original Haystackboy.”

Wait, did we mention that “Claude Monet: The Immersive Experience” is coming to L.A. in the fall?

The ultimate rundown of key exhibitions in Southern California: what to see, and how to see them.


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