A conversation with Irina Shabshis and Maria Shclover
CHICAGO | WORDS BY FLYNN DAUNT | LIGHTHOUSE IMMERSIVE - Issue 7
Immersive Van Gogh Chicago by Michael Brosilow
In the heart of the Near North Side Chicago neighbourhood, Lighthouse Immersive planted new roots in a 130-year-old architectural marvel. The Germania Club Building is already an art piece of its own, and now the building hosts the newest, most cutting-edge immersive exhibit: Immersive Van Gogh. Originating in Toronto, this expansion to the Windy City was made possible by the collaboration between Irina Shabshis and Maria Shclover of Maestro Artist Management, and Lighthouse Immersive.
Maestro Artist Management Inc. (MAM) has been operating since 2004 as a production company and has been
working alongside Svetlana Dvoretsky—Founder, President & Producer of Show One Productions and Co-Founder of Lighthouse Immersive—to bring artistic productions to North America. “We always do something creative to introduce people to different varieties of art,” says Shabshis. Shclover, who had the pleasure of seeing the Atelier des Lumières’s van Gogh exhibit in Paris, recalls how she “fell in love with it in Paris,” and has “been looking for an opportunity to bring it to North America.” Alongside Lighthouse Immersive, and against the odds of a global pandemic, Immersive Van Gogh continues to thrive in Chicago.
For Shclover and Shabshis, Chicago was the perfect fit for Immersive Van Gogh. “Chicago was always a market where we, as a company, worked for many years; I enjoy the city myself. Chicago is cultural, vibrant, and artistic,” says Shclover. “So many successful projects started here.” Indeed, whether it's museums, galleries, or the architecture of the city itself, you can find art everywhere. “Chicago on its own is its own art exhibit,” Shabshis continues, “so for a creative exhibit like Immersive Van Gogh, it’s the perfect city to start with.”
The Germania Club Building is a five-story structure nestled within the Chicago arts community, and is known for its large limestone base and housing a giant ceramic tableau that reads “The Glory of Germania.” Constructed in the 19th century, the Germania Clubhouse Building is a Victorian-style architectural landmark. Shabshis explains that the beauty of the building cannot be ignored, and Immersive Van Gogh highlights the architecture of the space as part of the experience.
Lighthouse Immersive takes up 90% of the building across four floors. Entering from the heart of the Golden Coast, near Old Town Chicago, the first floor is reserved for the lobby area and coat check, while the second floor contains the merchandise shop, café, a seating area, and a lounge space with a bar. The experience begins on the third floor, and the layout spreads out across four other rooms, allowing different viewpoints on the experience. As patrons make their way through these rooms, ending up in the ballroom, they will then make their way up to the fourth floor that leads them to a balcony where they can see the entire ballroom from above—examining the art from a completely different vantage point.
Adapting an immersive installation like Immersive Van Gogh to a completely different architecture is always a challenge. After all, the Golden Age Victorian-style building is quite different from the venue that hosts the original Toronto exhibit. “Germania Club has a completely different character,” says Shabshis. “Our Italian designers adjusted the exhibit to the sheer volume and elegance of this classic space.” She stresses the importance of making sure the exhibit naturally fits the space. “When you go with the flow, you don’t just stay still. You look at the beautiful pictures and drawings, but you actually go, and the images will move with you. So it will bring a different perspective and view.”
Immersive Van Gogh Chicago by Michael Brosilow
Over two million Chicagoans have already enjoyed passing through the 40-minute exhibit experience, finding something new around each corner. Despite the new restrictions on occupancy for Chicago due to COVID-19, the exhibit is still one of the biggest events in the area. Carefully-placed, projected circles help patrons keep six feet apart, masks are mandatory, and hand sanitizing stations are readily available. “I think it’s important to create a safe environment,” says Shclover. “So people will feel welcome, people would feel like they can return, or tell their family and friends to return and they would feel safe.”
There are many plans for the future of the Germania Club Building, as it recently sold for $15 million to an undisclosed buyer. As of now, Lighthouse Immersive has a five-year lease on the building, but they are aiming for five more in order to create an all-purpose art space. “This building is so versatile, we want to create an experience that makes people want to come back,” says Shclover. The goal, in the end, is to have rights to the whole building, to not only have this exhibit, but also events such as live music, theatrical performances, movie screenings, artist talks, dance performances, and many more. The possibilities will be endless. To welcome and expand to a larger audience of people, they have opened up the exhibit to host lifestyle classes, such as yoga. “This makes people feel like they are a part of the neighbourhood,” says Shclover.
COVID-19 has slowed things down for many industries, but Immersive Van Gogh is moving on strong with tickets still selling out. “People are enthusiastic and hopeful,” says Shclover. “We were not wrong to bring something positive here.”
Sign Up to Keep Up!
Our newsletters bring you the best in the visual and performing arts.
Exclusive interviews. Global Coverage. Local Perspectives.