I was lucky enough to visit the exciting new Pokémon collaboration exhibit at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam recently – but sadly I didn't have the best overall experience.
We reported on the announcement of the Pokémon x Van Gogh collab last month and how this creative yet slightly bizarre pairing had piqued the interest of Pokémon (and Vincent Van Gogh) fans worldwide. But all the hype has caused some issues (more on that later).
The Pokémon paintings
Vincent Van Gogh's paintings reimagined with Pokémon as the subject and displayed as an exhibit at the official Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam is not something I ever thought I would see in my lifetime, and especially not in person.
We had planned our trip to the city months in advance and already purchased tickets to the Van Gogh Museum before the news broke of this exciting collaborative Pokémon event, making it an extremely happy accident that we got to experience the exhibit during our time in Amsterdam.
The exhibit comprises just one yellow wall on the first floor (and not a very big wall either) with each of the Pokémon paintings mounted flat to it, making it difficult to see much at all as you queue up and join the eager crowd waiting to get close to the front.
The Pokémon paintings are a marvel to look at, but it would have been great to see Pikachu or any of the other featured Pokémon scattered around the exhibit in costume, or at least if the display had a bit more flair with Pokeballs in glass cabinets or literally anything else to look at besides the wall while queuing.
There were also tiny little Vincent Pokémon cards which were a nice touch, and text accompanying each painting. I felt bad for taking longer to get photos of the artwork using my Instax camera, but I'm so glad that I did, as it gave me my own souvenirs to take home and mini versions of the Pokémon paintings.
The quest for the promo card
As well as the Van Gogh-inspired Pokémon paintings and exclusive merchandise, another key part of this unique branding collaboration involves a quest for the limited edition Van Gogh Pikachu promo card. This is a Vincent Van Gogh-inspired rare and very sought-after Pokémon trading card that, at the time of my visit, was being offered for free to museum attendees who completed an activity sheet.
The card features Vincent's iconic 'Self-Portrait with Grey Felt Hat' painting – but redesigned with the loveable Pikachu mascot on the front who is wearing the hat instead. Pokémon trading cards have an iconic and nostalgic '90s design and are more than just a bit of fun, considered prestigious collector's items that can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
As you can imagine, the demand for this rare Pokémon card unleashed utter chaos upon the Van Gogh Museum the day after the event launch, with scalpers claiming all of the collaborative Pokémon X Van Gogh event merchandise.
The Van Gogh Museum has since had to end the scavenger hunt promotion as of 14 October, and has stopped handing out these free cards to visitors over safety concerns. The card will be available to purchase for around $30 via the Pokémon Center website soon, according to the museum website.
Thankfully, I was able to complete the scavenger hunt during my visit to the Van Gogh Museum and fill out the activity sheet for the Pikachu Promo card. It involved answering questions about the exhibit, as well as fun Pokemon and Vincent Van Gogh trivia, though some questions were tricky.
Upon leaving the Van Gogh Museum, we queued up outside to hand in our activity sheets, but our answers were not checked at all by the person in the kiosk, and we didn't get to keep the activity sheet as a souvenir, which I was hoping for. We were given the cards and shooed away.
Myself and my partner were then heckled by several people behind the barriers as we left, shouting and calling us over to sell them the rare Pikachu Promo cards we had just received. We of course didn't indulge in this, but it goes to show the power of brand collaboration in producing something so rare and desirable.
Pokémon x Van Gogh merchandise
The most disappointing part of the experience for me was that scalpers had all but obliterated the limited edition Pokémon x Van Gogh collab merchandise. Nothing was left on the museum shelves for fans to buy, and the exclusive Pikachu card plus all other Pokémon merchandise was being listed on eBay for extortionate prices.
I was gutted to find that only a few Pokémon postcards remained on the gift shop shelves, as I had been looking forward to getting the limited Eevee bookend, and Pokémon paintings pin collection, leaving space in my suitcase to bring these exact things home.
I asked one of the gift shop workers if any of the merchandise would be available online, to which they laughed a little, shrugged, and said "I honestly don't know. Everything is on eBay". Another worker told me they hadn't replenished stock since after the first opening day, with nothing out back or in storage, and no extra merch deliveries planned for the coming weeks.
We got to the gift shop presumably at exactly the right time to get the very last Eevee edition postcards of the day, which sold out just minutes after I had been queuing to pay. The Pikachu postcards had all sold out days before this.
The video below shows what the shelves should have looked like, uploaded by an influencer couple (@coupleofgaming) who were invited to the preview event at the Van Gogh Museum.
So how are fans supposed to get this merch?
While the Museum staff and retailers are of course not to blame for the shortages, I took to X (formerly Twitter) and found that plenty of online orders of Van Gogh x Pokémon merchandise had been cancelled by The Pokémon Center and the Museum online shop.
It's pretty unjustified to know that fans can't get a hold of unique and artistic event merchandise not only at the museum itself but from buying online without having to pay unfair and extortionate scalper prices.
The Pokemon Center website has removed almost any trace of the Van Gogh x Pokémon collection and one remaining link redirects to a 'Hidden Category', with the original page presenting a 404 not found error in its place.
Pokémon Center canceling Van Gogh orders is not a good look. This whole thing has just been a disaster. They really should have at least anticipated how this whole thing was going to go down. They should have waited for the museum event to end first before selling to the public.October 7, 2023
Man I hate seeing so many people get their orders cancelled like that earlier today. I wish that Pokemon had handled the Van Gogh drop way betterOctober 7, 2023
Should you visit?
As a Pokémon fan above all else, this unique crossover felt like a super nostalgic throwback to my childhood (and an ode to my adulthood) that I really didn't know I needed to experience. However, I do feel for those who might be travelling miles just to see this exhibit, as it was limited to just one wall out of the entire museum and wasn't exactly showstopping.
It's a real shame that what was meant to be a fun and lighthearted collaboration was overrun by scalpers, and the original beauty of the unique Pokémon paintings felt tainted and overshadowed, caught up in all the crowded chaos. It also appears from scouring social media that the merch distribution and stock was poorly organised, and has left many upset and with cancelled orders.
This was definitely not the best museum experience I've had, given that there was an extra level of queueing (above what you would reasonably expect at a tourist attraction), all just to stare at a crowded wall in an otherwise calm and collected museum space, and we felt hurried along the entire time too.
My advice: get inspired by this unique collaboration and create your own Vincent Van Gogh-inspired Pokémon artwork to hang in your home instead, or any anime-infused paintings for that matter.