Art beacons

Frequent flyers to the Costa del Sol's art capital all have personal touchdown rituals; nothing to do with switching mobile settings or gathering their hand luggage in a particular order, it's a thought process.

Filled with anticipation, they catch a glimpse of the coastline, before the plane flips over the Plaza de Toros. Some sounds speak volumes: the pilot's announcement; the beeps or chimes preceding the landing, which differ from one airline to another; the click of safety belts; the wails of toddlers with earache. Bienvenidos a Málaga.

Even if clapping and chanting isn't their thing, the inner passenger lurking behind their designer sunglasses experiences a sense of excitement, as the aircraft approaches the runway. Highlights of previous trips spring to mind, but visions of whatever or whoever awaits them soon take over; and museums are high on their list of cultural thrills.

Every regular visitor has his or her visual cues. Art lovers picture themselves strolling from one exhibition to the next: that must-see at the Russian Museum; that avant-garde artist featured at the CAC contemporary art centre they missed last time they were in town; that intriguing show at the Picasso Foundation; the thought-provoking overview at the Museo Carmen Thyssen everybody is talking about; the Soho gallery circuit...

Art-struck or not, visitors follow more or less the same brain path, calling up familiar images that propel them from the airport on the city's western outskirts to the historical centre, from the palm tree-lined Parque with its tropical fauna, fountains and horse-drawn carriages to the sun-drenched seafront.

This spring, the windmills of their minds will whisk them to the port; at each extremity of the ultra touristic Muelle Uno yacht marina and shopping area, two diametrically opposite art experiences await them, both spotlighting household name painters.

First stop: El Cubo. The cube-shaped entrance to the Malaga branch of the Pompidou Centre, conceived by France's flagship artist Daniel Buren, beckons us like a beacon; on this occasion, to a 50-work tribute to the "the King of Colour" entitled Matisse. Un País Nuevo. (Until 9 June.)

Next stop: La Farola. At the other end of the Muelle, within steps of Malaga's sturdy 19th century lighthouse, a huge circus-like tent hosts Van Gogh Alive - The Experience, a multimedia extravaganza, designed to transport us in time-machine mode; immersing children and adults in the tormented artist's vibrant universe.

Projected on giant floor-to-roof screens and synchronised with dramatic classical music, more than 3,000 images retrace the post-impressionist painter's journey, from his native Holland to London, Belgium and Paris (where he met Paul Gauguin), to its final crescendo (heralded by shrieking crows): Arles, Saint-Rémy, the blazing sun of Provence... telling the story of Vincent's solitary creative struggle, wracked by bouts of mental illness, and its tragic ending in Auvers-sur-Oise, where he rests alongside his brother Theo. (Until 9 June, too.)

'Brand Vincent' meets 'marca Matisse'. A match made in heaven? Tour guides will be cooking up 'beacon-2-beacon' walkthroughs. Meet at the Pompidou. See the Matisse. Pop into the Hard Rock Café, launched last March. Browse the chic boutiques and arts and crafts stands. Ogle the luxury yachts; perhaps a mega cruise ship is moored in the harbour...? And, then... "The world's most visited Van Gogh experience" - VVG, as never before.

In marketing terms, the name of the game is co-branding. Big business for the wharf-side tapas bars and seafood restaurants, this two-show combo is bound to benefit the Muelle's stylish retail stores. Who needs beacon technology? Why fish for clients via their smartphones, when Van Gogh and Matisse are at hand?

Brilliant, except that, as any experienced marketer will tell you, co-branding can be a double-edged sword. Sometimes, one brand outshines the other or - worse still - conflicting messages cancel each other out. In this instance, colour is the common denominator. However, seasoned culture vultures may consider that neither the Paseo de la Farola blockbuster nor Henri Matisse's masterpieces, quite deliver on that score.

The Pompidou Centre spotlights Matisse's quest for chromatic intensity, yet presents us with a relatively subdued body of work. Fans of his dazzling Fauve paintings of windows looking out onto the French Riviera may miss that vibe; though captivating, the star exhibit - no doubt a self-portrait - the subtle-hued Violinist at the Window (1918), isn't what they came to see.

Light years away from such curatorial nuances, Van Gogh Alive promises the impossible: brushstrokes that come to life, "being Vincent" for half an hour or so - thanks to SENSORY4™, a state-of-the-art 4D projection system promoted as "an unforgettable multi-sensory experience".

Everybody knows that no technology on earth is smart enough to reproduce the exact effect of light flickering on canvas, at different times of the day and night; that on-screen colour is only an approximation of the original's true vividness. No matter. Seated, standing or slouched in beanbags, ticket-holders big and small are star-struck. To paraphrase René Magritte, "This is not a museum"; it's something else.