The city of superlatives welcomes the largest display of Van Gogh's art the world will ever see

You know how it is. You wait 46 years for one Van Gogh, then 860 turn up at once. The much-anticipated opening of Louvre Abu Dhabi last year unveiled an 1887 oil-on-canvas Self Portrait by the Dutch master, on loan from Musée d’Orsay, and the emirate furthered its crusade to be considered a world-class capital of culture with the opening of Van Gogh Alive: The Experience.

Vase with Twelve Sunflowers

Having made a stop at Abu Dhabi National Theatre in January, now the touring exhibition – billed as “the world’s most-visited multimedia exhibition experience” thanks to the three million-plus tickets sold since opening in Singapore in 2011 and at subsequent stops including Beijing, Moscow, Istanbul, and Seville – is set to pitch up at Dubai Design District on 11 March.

Blurring the boundaries between art and technology, Van Gogh Alive is an immersive, interactive journey through 3,000 images of the artist’s most iconic works projected onto floor-to-ceiling screens to a classical playlist that includes The Flower Duet by Delibes, and Handel’s Sarabande from Suite in D Minor.

Starry Night is among the works digitised for Van Gogh Alive

Of the 860 oil paintings he committed to canvas, the most iconic include the Sunflowers series (1888-1889); The Starry Night (1889); Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear and Pipe (1889); Bedroom in Arles (1888); Starry Night Over the Rhone (1888); and The Night Café (1888), all of which have become the MVPs of the exhibition.

“We created this experience for people who don’t like going to art galleries,” Rob Kirk, Director of Events EMEA at Grande Exhibitions, the masterminds behind Van Gogh Alive, tells Grazia. “Art can be seen as very elitist, so we’ve found a way to educate and entertain in an accessible way.” Was there any resistance from the art world to this millennial method of viewing the masterpieces? “Naturally, there have been some detractors who have pointed out there are none of Van Gogh’s original works featured in the exhibition,” he shrugs, “but that’s why they’re called art critics.”

Art meets tech: 40 HD projectors allow works that could never be displayed at the same time to be shown together

The purists are missing the point. What Van Gogh Alive lacks in provenance, it more than makes up for in its clever curation of the pieces that could never physically be in one place at one time. Van Gogh expert Martin Bailey, author of The Sunflowers are Mine: The Story of Van Gogh’s Masterpiece (Frances Lincoln), explains, “The Sunflowers series [of paintings] have never been exhibited together – and they never will. In terms of exhibition organising, works by Van Gogh are always really difficult to obtain because they mean an awful lot to the visitors of a museum, who often come thousands of miles to see them. That’s often the case with great works of art, particularly with works by Van Gogh, and Sunflowers above all.”

With Loving Vincent, the world’s first fully painted film starring Douglas Booth and Saoirse Ronan making US$28.3million at the US box office, and Van Gogh Alive reaching Dhs200 million in ticket sales, the artist who only sold one painting in his lifetime continues to intrigue new audiences in new ways.

Café Terrace at Night is one of the 860 oil paintings brought to life in the UAE

• Visit Van Gogh Alive: The Experience at Dubai Design District from 11 March to 23 April