Go for Full Immersion
Art hung on a wall is so yesterday. In immersive art exhibits, you’ll find art on the walls, ceilings, and even floors. Whereas video art has long been a way for the viewer to interact with a work, these new experiential exhibits take that notion to the next level, completely wrapping the viewer in the artist’s vision.
Take Vincent van Gogh, for instance. Even nonartistic types are familiar with the Dutch Post-Impressionist painter’s Starry Night or his signature sunflowers that posthumously earned him wide acclaim as one of the all-time greatest masters. The atmospheric light and sound show van Gogh: The Immersive Experience, which recently concluded a run at the historic Olympia Theater in Miami, invited audiences to not only learn more about these paintings, but to actually step inside them—re-created in three dimensions and projected onto the walls, floors, and ceilings using state-of-the-art video mapping technology. A virtual reality addition took visitors on a simulated ride through the Saint-Rémy-de-Provence where van Gogh spent his final days painting in a psychiatric hospital.
And then there’s Yayoi Kusama, whose fully immersive Infinity Rooms titled Let’s Survive Forever and Where the Lights in My Heart Go, allow visitors to get lost in her curious mind through a trippy, kaleidoscopic experience at the Rubell Museum. To further captivate, 700 stainless-steel spheres wind their way down Rubell’s center hall to the tune of 200 feet, forming Kusama’s reflective Narcissus Garden.
Or consider Superblue, which lets art enthusiasts walk into large-scale installations by the likes of Es Devlin, teamLab, and James Turrell. Think: mirrored labyrinths, transcendent digital environments, and colorful spectacles of light. But Superblue takes the 360-degree immersive experience and kicks it up a notch with teamLab’s Massless Clouds Between Sculpture and Life, where visitors are given a poncho to protect against the installation’s cloud-like soap bubbles.
“The work is not complete without the interaction or the participation of the visitor,” says Shantelle Rodriguez, Superblue’s director of experiential art centers. “The artists set the environment, they set the stage, and it really requires audiences sharing an experience together to complete the artwork.”
Superblue breaks down barriers regarding how interactive art is viewed, Rodriguez notes. Its immersive experiences can be enjoyed regardless of age, background, or art history knowledge. As long as you can open your imagination, you can be transported.
NFTs are What’s Now
In today’s cyberworld (where so much can be freely and erroneously distributed), the advent of the non-fungible token, or NFT, is a welcome form of authenticity for some. Still, others are left scratching their heads.
NFTs—digital files that use blockchain technology to show proof of ownership—have quickly gained traction in the art world, easing access to art and changing the way artists and collectors interact. But even though they’re commandeering the internet—turning even the most amateur of buyers into serious collectors—NFTs are making their way into museums and art shows, too.
Just ask Alex Gartenfeld, artistic director at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami. “NFTs are making a cultural impact, so it becomes incumbent upon us to examine that and think about how to move forward,” he says. “We believe that the NFT art form opens contemporary art to lots of new audiences, and it just poses questions about how people collect work. I think they’re a historical marker, and the centers they develop will set how influential and pervasive they are in the future.”
Gartenfeld would know. ICA Miami recently acquired the NFT piece CryptoPunk 5293 by Larva Labs via a donation from trustee Eduardo Burillo. Created in 2017 as some of the pioneering NFTs offered on the Ethereum blockchain, the CryptoPunks series includes 10,000 unique 24-by-24-pixel icons, each featuring distinct qualities that are generated by a software algorithm. CryptoPunk 5293 is one of 3,840 female punks, and can be distinguished by her purple lipstick, mole, and hair.
Thanks to that NFT donation, Gartenfeld says that ICA Miami is primed (as he puts it) to encourage interest and drive the conversation on crypto art. “This made us one of the very few museums to own an NFT and, in turn, enter the crypto space,” he says. “The acquisition has been an interesting crossover moment in terms of our contemporary program being exposed to and overlapping with an entirely new group of people.”
But how do you display a digital file? Gartenfeld says the answer to that question is still evolving. Moving forward, ICA Miami will continue to develop (in conversation with the artists themselves) the most meaningful and impactful ways to share this type of art. “I think embedded in the work and the form are questions about whether the work is best presented digitally or on-site,” Gartenfeld says. “If one does proceed to install it on-site, often to exist as a two-dimensional or three-dimensional form or somewhere in between, these are all the kinds of questions that we are asking ourselves as we think about how to display the work.”
Doing it Digitally
Museums like the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) and the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami (MOCA) have gone digital, too, making their collections more accessible in a post-COVID world. PAMM has set up its Digital Museum, offering virtual tours no matter where the viewer might be. And MOCA from Home lets viewers explore virtual exhibitions without ever leaving their own house.
It’s the wave of the future. Whether through these immersive experiences, virtual realities, online viewing rooms, or digital art, innovation seems to be the new medium. “We always want to encourage artists to create new forms of art, and we initiated an ongoing digital commissions series in partnership with the Knight Foundation, which is focused on creating important works of art and supporting artistic production,” ICA Miami’s Gartenfeld says. “There are many possibilities for digital art to be exchanged and transferred in totally new ways. In the future, art will become more prevalent in the digital space and this new type of art form can definitely be considered much more sustainable.”