It doesn’t take much animation for the swirling blues, vibrant yellows and captivating blacks of Vincent van Gogh’s paintings to come to life, as they organically encapsulate movement through unblended, determined brushstrokes and boldly complementary hues.
While that effect can be achieved by ingesting magic mushrooms at home on a Saturday afternoon—or at least, so legend goes—now South Bay residents averse to psychedelics can find the next best thing at “Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience” in downtown San Jose.
At “Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience,” (in)famous masterpieces such as The Starry Night, Sunflowers and Café Terrace at Night and nearly 400 other oil paintings by the Dutch post-Impressionist will come alive, projected through 60,000 frames of video across 500,000 square feet of walls, floors and ceilings.
Created in 2020 by creative director Mathieu St-Arnaud and art historian Fanny Curtat, the production is one of the first events to reappear in the McEnery Convention Center’s South Hall, following more than a year of postponements, cancellations and lockdowns. Ticket holders can wander the 80,000 sq. ft. exhibit space at 435 South Market Street, whether that means running after the flowing brushstrokes on the ground, twirling with cascading petals or standing still enveloped in light—hence the event’s name.
“I’m used to Van Gogh’s work. I love seeing an original, but it was very emotional for me to actually step into one,” Curtat says. “When you’re in front of an original, there’s something happening—there’s a magic, an aura. We don’t have that, but we do have the opportunity of choosing the pieces we want.”
While far from reinventing the entertainment wheel, immersive experiences are one of the latest trends museums, venues and artists are capitalizing on in 2021. The South Bay gained two new opportunities in August alone: Valley Fair’s iChina restaurant, complete with a 360º virtual-reality private dinner room, and the Factory of the Sun cyberspace video installation by Hito Steyerl at the San José Museum of Art.
As folks contend with the confusion, anxiety and excitement of society’s slowly teased reopening, overloading one’s senses might be just the thing. Could there even be a connection forged between the artistic hardships of Van Gogh’s 1800s and folks grappling with a 21st century pandemic?
Curtat, who specializes in contemporary experiences and new museology, says there’s a lot to be learned from an artist who transcended struggle through beauty.
“When you look at his work, you don’t see the struggle; you see his energies, his passion, light, color, vibrancy, an urgency to share the beauty of the world and the wonders of light,” Curtat explains. “Especially after all we’ve been through, to have somebody looking at a table with onions on it or a pair of boots, or looking through a barred window of an asylum and producing artworks, that’s what we wanted to focus on, because that’s what makes him still so relevant.”
Reactions from the art world, however, have been a mixed bag. The dramatics of the animations paired with a melodramatic score left some critics unimpressed and snorting out loud; others felt the auditory element was overwhelmingly booming. Depictions of oil paints acting like watercolors and fictitious candlelight painting methods were also deemed untrue to the original works.
Curtat says debate and critique are healthy for all art to thrive, but that people should experience all types of art possible, arguing events like “Beyond” bridge gaps in access and audiences for the art world.
“If your Instagram is part of the way we experience the world—and therefore the art world—how do you take that in and compose a whole experience in order to bring a message the same way a traditional exhibit would?” she asks. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Donovan Friedman, entrepreneur, event promoter and self-described “Director of Happiness,” hopes his upcoming year-round immersive events will help folks escape the craziness of news headlines, workplace dramas and global realities in the South Bay.
“Immersive Los Gatos” will become an aptly named venue featuring themed dinner shows, live music, private bookings and nightlife gigs year-round, featuring the worlds of everything from Moulin Rouge and Alice in Wonderland, to haunted houses and pirate escapades. Set to open October 1, the current plan is to host dinner shows Monday through Wednesday, pay homage to the live music legacy of Mountain Charley’s—the building’s former establishment—on Thursdays and showcase late night club entertainment over the weekend.
The tech behind experiences like Beyond Van Gogh and Immersive Los Gatos has been around for decades, but its recent resurgence has fueled criticism that the projects are “too Instagrammable,” as opposed to more traditional venues. Friedman says his 20 years curating tactile-based environments across the Bay Area will help toe the line between hosting an otherworldly playground and a social media gimmick.
“Clearly, there’s going to be countless photo opportunities for people to post on social media—it’s such a critical part now of today’s culture—but there’s so many more layers to what we’re doing in this space,” Friedman says. “The goal is when people walk in, their jaws are gonna drop and they’ll go, ‘Where am I right now? I’ve just been transported into a different dimension.’”
Even the food and cocktails will help tell a complete story, led by business partner and local restaurateur Alex Hult, as well as future partnerships with neighboring grills, coffee shops and bakeries.
Putting together the final pieces before doors open, Friedman says he and Hult are excited to be a part of this wave of new, immersive experiences that have so far missed Silicon Valley and the South Bay.
“We’re tapping into something that nobody’s doing down here right now,” Friedman says. “This immersive experience space, we’re just at the infancy.”
Tickets for “Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience” range from $24.99 for youth and $34.99 for adults. The show runs from Sept. 24 through Nov. 14. More info can be found online at vangoghsanjose.com.
Immersive Los Gatos is tentatively planning to open by October 1, in time to host an inaugural “Haunted Bar.” The venue is located in the old Mountain Charley’s building at 15 N. Santa Cruz Ave. Check immersivelg.com for updates.
Mighty Mike McGee
‘Strike Up the Band’
Symphony Silicon Valley – Sept 4-5
Who doesn’t love listening to a band play classical tunes outdoors? “Strike Up the Band” is a series of 75- to 90-minute programs with a full symphony orchestra, piano instrumentalists, and operatic soloists playing the music of Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Gershwin and more. Beloved local Jon Nakamatsu will grace the band with his gorgeous piano stylings. Held at SJSU’s Tower Lawn, there will be chairs, bottled water and (hopefully) a nice sunny day to enjoy the music. Snapping along is permitted. (AC)
Steinway Society, Online – Sept 17-20
While still in the single digits, prizewinning American pianist Claire Haungci made a splash as an expressive interpreter of Chopin. In the years since, she has performed—both solo and with orchestras—in distinguished venues around the globe. Over a long weekend, ticket holders can livestream her concert—via the marvels of the internet—in any setting they deem fit. Haungci will dazzle audiences with exclusive renditions of Beethoven, including the famed Moonlight Sonata. (LP)
Redwood Symphony – Sept 25
For its 37th season, the Redwood Symphony aims to bring energy and optimism to its programming, and Undistant features one of the most stirring symphonic pieces ever to be imported from Italy straight into the heart of American culture: The William Tell Overture (yes, fine, the Lone Ranger Theme). It also includes Brahms’ Violin Concerto, with Jassen Todorov on violin, as well as the premiere of Mason Bates’ Undistant, which incorporates Beethoven’s Ode to Joy from his Ninth Symphony. (SP)
‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’
Montgomery Theatre – Sept 25-26
Shakespeare’s dreamy summer rom-com comes to life in this zesty and kinetic performance from San Jose Dance Theatre, the first of their 2021-2022 season. Though by late September midsummer will be long behind us, there will still be love triangles, mischievous sprites, animal transformations and subplots-a-plenty—plus, of course, a good ol’ donkey romance. All at the Montgomery Theatre in this staging of a theatre classic. (MH)
‘Mozart and Salieri’
San Jose Opera – Sept 30
Before there was Joker, there was Mozart and Salieri, Rimsky-Korsakov’s intimate rendering of a tortured villain in Italian composer Antonio Salieri. Envy is the catalyst here, with the successful slacker Mozart completely unaware of his friend Salieri’s nefarious intentions. The first performance of Opera San Jose’s 2021-22 season, Mozart and Salieri stars mighty baritone Sidney Outlaw as the brooding Salieri, and the Grammy-nominated Simon Barrad as the comparatively chill Mozart in this classic story of genius, envy and murder. (MH)
California Theatre – Oct 2-3
This year marks Symphony Silicon Valley’s 20th anniversary season. Maestra JoAnne Falletta kicks it off with some classics by Mendelssohn and Dvorák, as well as a world premiere work by Mexican composer Gabriela Ortiz. Ortiz’s concerto is inspired by the history of El Camino Real across three time periods: ancient American, Baroque, and Present Day. The Dvorák piece, New World Symphony, is what Steinbeck rocked out to while penning The Grapes of Wrath. (LP)
Steinway Society Online – Oct 15-18
It’s called classical music, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t composers and players out there pushing the boundaries of music within the genre. Finish pianist Juho Pohjonen is one of the greatest young talents bringing an intriguing spin to modern instrumental recitals. His phrasing, crisp tone and clean articulation have garnered him endless praise. His songs both pull from legends like Bach and Salonen, while marrying them with exciting new elements, showing off just how profound the piano can sound when played by a master. (AC)
Kulāiwi – Native Lands
Fox Theatre, Redwood City – Sept 17
Hawaii has a rich musical history that continues to evolve and grow, and it goes way beyond what tourists hear when they exit the airport. The band Kulāiwi is an all-star Hawaiian group consisting of three greats: Lehua Kalima (of Na Leo), Shawn Pimental and Kawika Kahiapo. This show will have a much needed easy-going vibe with charismatic and witty stories, and accompaniment by award winning hula dancer Pono Fernandez. (AC)
Roy Rogers & The Delta Rhythm Kings
Poor House Bistro, San Jose – Sept 19
Redding’s Roy Rogers has cultivated a reputation as one of the greatest slide guitarists to play the blues. Virtuosic and lightning-quick, Rogers’ slide dances across his distinct 12-string resonator guitar, casting nimble melodies over the delta rhythms. As a hired hand, he’s recorded with or performed alongside Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and plenty of others, and his Delta Rhythm Kings have been right there behind him, backing him up since 1980. (MH)
Ainsley House, Campbell – Sept 19
Amy D emerged from San Jose’s erudite downtown jazz scene, but she’s never been shy about blending some R&B, neo-soul and pop in with her jazz. On her debut album Like You, the powerful singer/songwriter evokes an intoxicating mood with romantic arrangements, memorable hooks and earnest storytelling. It’s just smooth enough to play well in most rooms, but full of subtle flares that bear themselves on repeat listens. Those who missed her at San Jose Jazz’s Summer Fest have a second chance here. (MH)
Rancid & Dropkicks Murphys
Frost Amphitheatre, Palo Alto – Oct 7
There’s no better time to take the 60 bus out of downtown Campbell than when Rancid’s in town. The Bay Area street punk legends come to the beautiful Frost Amphitheatre on their “Boston to Berkeley II” co-headline tour with Celtic punks Dropkick Murphys, also featuring The Bronx. Most recently, Rancid released Trouble Maker, 2017’s tender, slurred homage to the band’s years spent being “…a street punk trouble maker” on “Telegraph Avenue,” and taking the “BART train to San Francisco.” (MH)
The Ritz, San Jose – Nov 18
Fu Manchu has taken a lot of guff for basically being themselves. How is it even legal to criticize a band of diehard slack-rockers for not being ambitious enough? Or a stoner rock band for grooving too relentlessly? Fu Manchu has never made any secret of the fact that they just want to rock hard, and that’s exactly what they do on songs like “Hell on Wheels,” “Evil Eye” and “Squash That Fly.” No, they’re not as clever as the Supersuckers or as dynamic as Queens of the Stone Age. But they don’t care—at all—and neither should you. (SP)
Bing Concert Hall, Stanford – Sept 29
One of Canada’s most electrifying electro-pop artists and surely one of its more vocal vocalists, the critically acclaimed Iskwē brings her sense of justice, lyrical revolution and environmental stewardship to Stanford’s awe-inspiring Bing Concert Hall. With world class knowledge and know-how of nearly every musical genre of the last two centuries, along with live movement set to a multimedia showcase, this show is already trying to burn itself into your memories as one of the best concerts you have yet to see. (MMM)
Shift & A Little Peace
Kaleid Art Gallery, San Jose – Sept 3
Two upcoming shows at Kaleid feature the work of artists that have taken major elements from the pandemic and funneled them into their work. Karen Carlo Salinger, based in the Santa Cruz Mountains, has created an exhibit, Shift, around the dramatic and constant shifting happening in culture and the world. Local Sarah Loyola’s exhibit, A Little Peace, contemplates the gift of time, something many of us had in abundance this past year, to explore peace and to do so in a new medium for her, cyanotype, a cyan-blue photographic printing process. (AC)
More Impact: Climate Change
Museum of Quilts & Textiles, San Jose – Sept 22
With rising sea levels, bizarre weather patterns and the great new coastal feature called “fire season,” the impact of climate change becomes more pronounced every day. This timely exhibit collects tapestries depicting these and other, more subtle effects of climate change (such as an increase in global migration) made by artists from the long-running Tapestry Weavers West collective. Featuring more than 25 artists, this exhibit makes a strong case for the ongoing relevance of tapestry arts. (MH)
Citadel Art Show
The Citadel, San Jose – Oct 1
Housed in the former cannery near SJSU, the Citadel is the largest artist community in the South Bay, with more than 70 studios. Its regular art shows provide an opportunity to see some of the best works from this area’s up-and-coming artists. This fall’s show will be curated by San Jose painter and gallery mastermind Al Preciado. (SP)
Anno Domini, San Jose – Until Oct 16
Spanish artist LeonKa is a graffiti artist, print maker, tattoo artist and doctor of philosophy. There isn’t enough room here to truly expound on the things he does. LeonKa is sure to blend a number of his skills into his art—work that has been exhibited throughout Europe and the U.S. He returns to Anno Domini with Imago Philosophia, a series of intricate black and gold prints that explore knowledge and causality. (MMM)
Cantor Arts Center, Stanford – Oct 18
It turns out that universities aren’t just big lawns for throwing frisbees and playing acoustic guitars—they’re also a boon for art lovers. Many house a gallery or two and nearly all of them have been featuring their new exhibits online. This October, Stanford’s Cantor Arts Center’s new online exhibit and publication Art/Object: Contemporary Works Between Mediums are part of a collaborative initiative between the Cantor Arts Center and Stanford’s Department of Art & Art History. It will feature “works that fall between the cracks of obvious medium categories.” (MMM)
Our Whole Unruly Selves
San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose – Nov 19
What are the stakes of depicting the human body in art? How can artists bring their whole, unruly selves into the curated space of a museum? These questions are at the heart of a new show that centers the work of artists of color, as well as those who are queer, immigrant, disabled, and/or undocumented. The over 60 works displayed highlight the complexities of embodiment, and celebrate the boundlessness of the human form. (LP)
The Great Leap
San Jose Stage, San Jose – Sept 29 – Oct 24
Playwright Lauren Yee says her plays “tend to be comedies, until they’re not,” and The Great Leap is no exception. Inspired by the experience of her father, The Great Leap tells the story of an Asian-American from San Francisco’s Chinatown who plays basketball for the US against China in the 1980s. Kinetic and witty, Leap uses the inherent tension of the game to enact tensions in the family, between nations and within the consciousness of one young, conflicted b-baller. (MH)
Pear Theatre, Mountain View – Oct 1-24
In Marisela Treviño Orta’s Somewhere, Cassandra and Alexander are siblings on a journey to keep up with the last known monarch butterflies—the world’s insects have all but died out. As they head west, they come face to face with the failure of everything holding society together. They must band together with a group of strangers in order to survive. This West Coast Premiere is directed by John R. Lewis. (MMM)
The War of the Worlds
Bing Concert Hall, Stanford – Oct 28-29
In 1938, Orson Welles broadcast his famous War of the Worlds program on radio, a dramatization of H.G. Wells’ alien invasion novel but presented as a news bulletin. It is true that some people freaked out, thinking it was real, though it wasn’t as extensive as many people now think it was. Regardless, everything from the original story to the public reaction in 1938 to our current memory overemphasizing the panic speaks to our current dilemma of trust in the media. A timeless tale that has been remade several times and remains eerily relevant today. (AC)
Lucie Stern Theater, Palo Alto – Nov 5-21
In Lauren Gunderson’s irreverently funny play, four women (including Marie Antoinette) find themselves in the thick of the French Revolution, and not just caught unawares during the Reign of Terror, but decidedly piloting a plot to overthrow the monarchy, while keeping their wits and their necks in check. Will they eat cake or crow? (MMM)
Center for the Performing Arts, San Jose – Nov 12-31
After years of Hamilton mania, it’s easy to think that maybe it was all a bunch of hype. After all, you saw it on Disney+. Can seeing it live make that much of a difference? Oh, hell yeah. I’ve seen it twice, and it’s like nothing else I’ve experienced in theater. This hip-hop retelling of Alexander Hamilton’s story reimagines the Revolution-era U.S. as a melting-pot fever dream with a beat, and American history has never been—and probably never will be—so captivating on the stage. (SP)
City Lights, San Jose – Nov 20 – Dec 19
Any local with a Nextdoor account can attest: warring neighbors exist. Battles that arise over petty subjects—in the case of Native Gardens, a fence dividing two residences—often bely more serious clashes. This play takes a comedic approach to timely topics like racism, borders, classism, gentrification, and ageism. The conflict splits a pair of couples: one is older, white, and conservative; the other is young, Latinx and liberal. The script has drawn comparisons to classic sitcoms, and audiences can expect repartee galore. (LP)
Silicon Valley Sculpture 2021
Menlo College, Atherton – Sept 23-26
Imagine there was an art and dance fair that worked to define and inspire the South Bay with more public dance and art installation. What you’ve imagined is SVS2021, a group and four-day festival dedicated to the placement of large-scale sculptures by over 30 local sculptors. This year’s theme is “Shifting Perspectives” and the aim is to draw attention away from our tech-heavy mindset and onto art that is accessible and relevant to everyone in the Bay Area. (MMM)
Mosaic Festival Silicon Valley
School of Arts and Culture, San Jose – Sept 25
Ever a champion of the cultures and heritage of East San Jose, la Plaza has become a neighborhood cornerstone at Alum Rock Avenue and King Road, a reminder of the impact that Eastside San Jose has had on the rest of Silicon Valley. This year, the Mosaic Festival invites a wide range of local performers, artists, storytellers and history-bearers to perform live, giving the South Bay the honest-to-goodness best parts of this little section of the world. We truly live in a beautiful mosaic of history, art and culture. (MMM)
Kronos Quartet/Sam Green ‘Live Documentary’
Frost Amphitheatre – Oct 6
Kronos Quartet have long since redefined the rules of what a string quartet can do. So, it makes sense that a documentary on them would be equally innovative. They are teaming up with Oscar-nominated filmmakers Sam Green and Joe Bini to present a “Live Documentary,” meaning a full-on multimedia performance with the group playing live music along with accompanying archival footage and filmed interviews. Maybe all documentaries should go this route. (AC)
Dia de los Muertos Procession and Festival
Plaza de Cesar Chavez, San Jose – Oct 30
The San Jose Multicultural Artists Guild presents its 24th annual Day of the Dead celebration with hundreds of musicians and dancers accompanying procession participants. The event has long been closely tied to the art scene, and the Art of Remembrance Altar exhibit features altars created by local artists. The opening reception will feature folklorico dancers, music, food and refreshments, as well as discussion with the artists about what their altars mean to them. Procession gathers at 11am and begins at noon at Cesar Chavez Park on Market Street, San Jose. (SP)
Queer Horror Gravest Hits
Bing Studio – Nov 5
Dust off your Fear the Tree t-shirt because this Halloween week we’re headed to Stanford. What garment better pairs with a spooky array of international short films with campy titles like In Satan’s Closet and Pizza Sluts? The host is Carla Rossi, Portland, Oregon’s “premier drag clown,” who is on campus for a two-night residency. In an underground studio cabaret, consider such heady topics as horror’s relation to queerness and what it means to identify with monstrosity. (LP)
Beta Space: Trevor Paglen
San Jose Museum of Art – Nov 6
Art should make you think, pull you out of your lull, and perhaps make you even feel a little uncomfortable. If you believe this sentiment, you probably pay attention to San Jose Museum of Art’s Beta Space project. For the seventh installation, artist Trevor Paglen will toy with sound, time and truth. The artwork, installed in SJMA’s historic clock tower, will project “official” dynamic information to the public, like endangered species lists and Cal Fire updates at various intervals, disrupting the flow of people’s days. (AC)
National Geographic Live
Bing Concert Hall – Nov 10
National Geographic Live returns to the Bing Concert Hall with a stirring event featuring African Diaspora Archaeologist Alicia Odewale, and centering around the Black Wall Street district of Tulsa and the 1921 massacre therein. Odewale reorients the conversation by focusing not on the killings itself, but on their after effects: the traumas, shadows and profound stories of resilience that have followed in the century since. Restorative justice enacted in real time. (MH)