Tuesday 10 December 2019

Meet Van Gogh Experience leaves museum out of pocket

© Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam/© Vincent Van Gogh Foundation

A multi-media 3D presentation of  Vincent van Gogh’s life and works which premiered in Beijing last year has ended in a loss of almost €2m for the Van Gogh Museum, the museum’s annual report shows.

The venture, thought up by the museum’s commercial department, was meant to introduce Van Gogh to groups that are not able to travel to Amsterdam to see the works, with the added advantage that fragile works would not have to leave museum’s premises.

It also came in the wake of severe cutbacks to the culture budget and the presentation was thought to be a lucrative alternative source of income, the Volkskrant writes.

However, the presentation of the ‘Meet Van Gogh Experience’ in Beijing, which lasted for two months and was to travel to Shanghai and Macau, only drew thousands of visitors when tens of thousands had been expected.

According to commercial director Adriaan Dönszelmann, the museum’s Chinese partner was ‘enthusiastic but not experienced enough’.

‘We did not check thoroughly enough whether this party had the know-how to mount the marketing circus needed to publicise this sort of event. The Chinese market is still a very new one and it takes time to understand it. If we were to find a new Chinese partner we would look more critically at their ability to market a show like this,’ he told the paper.

With a turnover of €4.1m in 2016 the museum’s finances are not in jeopardy, Dönszelmann says, which is why he would rather explain how the loss came about than brush it under the carpet, according to the NRC. The museum, he says, has not financed the business risk with public money but with the money the museum makes from its commercial activities, such as the sale of posters and souvenirs.

Warning

Most of all, Dönszelmann says, the loss should serve as a warning that the cultural entrepreneurship so beloved of politicians carries risks.

‘We have had plenty of discussions about what cultural  entrepreneurship entails. People think it is solely about efficient management but there is much more to it than that. If you want to increase turnover, you have to take risks. Fortunately for us, this is a risk we can carry,’ he told the paper.

The Chinese venture is not the end for the Van Gogh Experience. The project, which includes life size replicas of Van Gogh’s works and 3D reproductions which can be felt to appreciate the thickness of the brushstrokes, was given the prestigious Thea award for themed entertainment last year and is expected to continue elsewhere.

The museum has announced it is talking to an, as yet unknown, new partner. ‘The new partner will act as an agent and will not share in the risks but the fee we’ll be paying does depend on whether or not the marketing is up to scratch. It’s no cure, no pay,’ Dönszelmann told the paper.

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