It seemed like an unlikely collaboration: Vincent van Gogh, the Dutch Post-Impressionist artist whose mental health struggles infamously led to his death by suicide—after cutting off his own ear!—and Pokémon, the popular Japanese franchise known for its video games, trading card game, and anime television and film series.
But an exhibition of artwork reimagining famous Van Gogh paintings to feature Pokémon characters opened yesterday at Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum—sparking a frenzy both in the in-person gift shop and online.
Footage of packed crowds mobbing the cash register has circulated on social media, where users are accusing museum-goers of snapping up the special edition trading cards and other goods in search of lucrative resale opportunities, reports Kotaku. The entire collection sold out online in less than 24 hours, prompting the Pokémon Company to issue an apology on Twitter (now known as X).
“The @vangoghmuseum exhibit is lovely,” visitor Nathan Whincup wrote on the social media platform. Unfortunately it’s marred by scalpers hoarding multiple promo cards and picking the gift shop clean, and poor management of all of the above. This queue stretched around the entrance stairs and the gift shop. No clear end.”
This makes me so sad and is why we can’t have nice things
I saw so many wanting to go over in the first few days just to get any card and merch to resell. This is not an acceptable practice. If you do that, shame on you. https://t.co/vVHLHhVyZ1
— Joe Merrick (@JoeMerrick) September 28, 2023
Since the initial release of its first Gameboy game in 1996, Pokémon has become a worldwide phenomena, releasing many popular collectible items that routinely sell for well-above their face value. (An unopened first-edition set of Pokémon cards sold for $408,000 at Heritage Auctions in 2021.)
Visitors to the museum during the run of the show are each entitled to a special Pikachu Pokémon promo card depicting the electric-type Pokémon in the style of an 1887 Van Gogh self-portrait, wearing the same gray felt hat as the artist. (You have to participate in something called the Pokémon Adventure activity to snag one, turning your answers to redeem the card.)
And if you can’t visit the museum, you could receive the card as a gift with any online purchase of Pokémon x Van Gogh Museum merchandise. With items reportedly selling out within seconds, the company is hoping to release more of the promotional cards at a future date.
The collection also included a plush stuffed animal version of the Pika-Portrait, as the card was dubbed, as well as special tote bags, t-shirts, coloring books, and other collectibles.
Already, eBay has listings for the special edition card selling for as much as $2,439.50.
The featured artwork is one of six Van Gogh/Pokémon mashup paintings created by a trio of artists from the Pokémon Company for the occasion. (The partnership between the institution and the franchise celebrates the Van Gogh Museum’s 50th anniversary.)
There’s Van Gogh’s famous (1889) with a smiling Sunflora Pokémon at the center of the vase, and (1887–88) starring the beagle-like Smeargle, both by Tomokazu Komiya.
The artist Sowsow painted the Pokémon Snorlax and Munchlax snoozing in (1888), and an Eevee inspired by (1887).
The Pikachu painting is by Naoyo Kimura, who also added a flock of Corviknight (Pokémon resembling a raven) to (1890).
It’s all a bit silly to be sure, but Van Gogh, of course, was heavily influenced and inspired by Japanese art, and the museum hopes this appeal to pop culture will help attract new audiences.
The artist wrote to his brother Theo in 1888 that “we wouldn’t be able to study Japanese art, it seems to me, without becoming much happier and more cheerful, and it makes us return to nature, despite our education and our work in a world of convention.”
“There is a strong link between the inspiration behind Pokémon and the inspiration behind some of Vincent van Gogh’s most famous work,” Mathieu Galante, director of licensing at the Pokémon Company International, said in a statement. “With this collaboration we really hope that we can see children discovering and immersing themselves into the world of art through the incredible works of Van Gogh and Pokémon.”
As of press time, the museum had not responded to requests for comment about scalpers reselling “Pokémon x Van Gogh Museum” goods at exorbitant prices, but the museum website states that “sales are limited to one piece per product per customer.”
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