Passing through the King of Prussia mall entrance between Lord & Taylor and Neiman Marcus, visitors can ride up the escalator to the second floor, keep walking and grab a Starbucks coffee on their left, or continue straight and stumble upon what looks to be a somewhat octagonal assortment of white walls at the center of the walkway.
Inside those pop up walls is a mini Van Gogh Museum, with a display of nine famous paintings featured in three-dimensional replicas, down to the exact brush strokes of van Gogh. Starting Friday and running for the next eight weeks, visitors can walk through, sit and admire the artwork and, just as in most museums, buy souvenirs while passing through a gift shop before exiting.
"You're not going to find this down the street. You're not going to find this online," said Kathy Smith, the mall's director of marketing and business development. "We try to create a sense of place and an environment that customers can enjoy no matter what time they have and how they flow through the mall."
This exhibit is one example of how the King of Prussia Mall hopes to provide an experience people can't find elsewhere — whether that be online or in other shopping areas — as retailers redouble efforts to draw consumers to the mall.
While the King of Prussia Mall's roots are as a retail destination, events such as this and the dining options show that it is an area where people can "live, work, play," said Lauren Gilchrist, Philadelphia research director for real estate services firm JLL.
The most popular mall renovation is upgrading food and beverage, according to a 2017 JLL report "A New Mall Rises." Third was entertainment, showing that retailers believe they can attract shoppers by making unique tenants a destination.
While those seeking out the Van Gogh artwork may not be the same folks who would go to the mall on a weekday during the day, this event seeks to pull them in. Other malls could learn from this example, Gilchrist said, by noting how to bring in nontraditional mall consumers to their space.
"Retail just in general has been struggling with how to get people off their computers and into their physical spaces," Gilchrist said. "If you're creating an experience beyond the transactional experience of buying a pair of pants, so an opportunity to see art or have dinner, you're going to drive up your overall consumer numbers and even possibly make people more likely to shop while they do other things."
When John Blogg, the managing director of Retail Is Detail, a full service retail and pop-up consultant group, approached the Van Gogh Museum about working on this small presentation, he said, people were surprised he wanted to bring this artwork to a mall, of all places.
"'You want to sell these things to fund your museum?' The mall is the place where people buy things," he recalled explaining. "The mall seeks culture to bring people to the mall for a reason other than to buy a product."
The traveling museum chose King of Prussia for its first U.S. stop, before it travels to other U.S. cities, such as Houston, Boston, Los Angeles and Denver. The collection includes the following artwork: Sunflowers, Wheatfield under Thunderclouds, Undergrowth, Landscape at Twilight, Boulevard de Clichy, The Bedroom, Fishing Boats on the Beach at Les Saintes-Maries de la Mer, Almond Blossom and The Harvest.
The museum worked with Fujifilm Belgium to create the replicas and they are on sale for $17,750 with delicate, "white glove," delivery, including a first package of a small black box with keys and a preview, followed up by a larger black box, locked, with the limited edition replica inside, Blogg said. "Not everybody can buy it, let's be realistic, but if you have Tiffany's and Cartier and Hermes, the most expensive brands, in the mall, why not be in the mall?"
Those not looking to buy the artwork can still enjoy the experience of the replica museum, he said. The exhibition tour costs $5 and children under 10 are admitted for free. The proceeds from the event will go toward the museum's mission of making this artwork and educational history accessible to as many people as possible, he said.
Willem van Gogh, the great-grandson of Vincent van Gogh's brother, walked through the pop-up museum of his relative's work Thursday, and gestured toward the Almond Blossom replica, noting that it is his favorite painting. Thousands of miles away, the original piece is in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
"I hope that people get inspired and get enriched," Willem van Gogh said of the exhibit. "Not everybody can travel to Amsterdam."