How can museums and galleries reach younger, digital-native audiences? How can they breathe new life into age-old masterpieces and think beyond the traditional white-cube format?
The answer, as curators around the world are beginning to discover, is in immersive art experiences.
From today until Christmas Eve, the Hunt Museum in Limerick will be hosting ‘Ride a Flying Fish’. The VR experience explores The Garden of Earthly Delights, a 500-year-old painting by Hieronymus Bosch.
It’s a cutting-edge collision of art and technology — and it will undoubtedly draw large and curious crowds.
Bosch’s triptych masterpiece resides in the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain, but the Hunt Museum is inviting a different perspective.
“The idea of moving around inside an artwork and feeling it to be a living thing gives new insights and joy,” explains the museum’s Director and CEO, Jill Cousins.
“The Garden of Earthly Delights is such a complex painting, but with VR technology, you get to dive deep into it, focussing on every little detail and almost becoming part of the painting.”
The Hunt Museum isn’t the only cultural institution evolving in the digital age. Immersive art has soared in popularity in recent years as museums and galleries curate mesmerising experiences that are designed to be shared — both with fellow attendees and Instagram followers.
These exhibitions offer a new way of engaging with seminal masterpieces and, across the world, they are drawing in younger, and wider, audiences.
Take the Van Gogh Alive experience, which has been seen by seven million visitors worldwide. The 35-minute, 360-degree experience features 200 of the impressionist painter’s works and includes digital animation, music and an optional VR experience during which visitors ‘walk’ through the French town of Arles.
In musical terms, you could liken seeing Sunflowers in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam to an intimate, acoustic performance, whereas Van Gogh Alive is more like a show-stopping stadium tour.
As well as offering a unique participatory experience for a generation accustomed to constant stimuli, immersive art solves one of the biggest issues facing leading museums and galleries — queues.
Anyone who has tried to catch a glimpse of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre will know the crowds can be overwhelming at best, and discombobulating at worst.
This is partly why the museum launched their first-ever VR project, Mona Lisa: Beyond the Glass, in 2019. Instead of taking their place in a queue to see the original painting, visitors could don a VR headset and embark on a seven-minute immersive journey.
“It offers visitors [a chance] to go inside the painting, not only to look at it from outside, but to try to be within the universe of the painting,” explained the museum’s general curator Dominique de Font-Réaulx at the time of its launch.
The immersive art experience was arguably spearheaded by Japanese contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama, whose walk-through Infinity Mirror Room installations have drawn sell-out crowds over the last decade. The exhibit is currently at the Tate Modern in London, but it’s sold out until March 2022. More tickets for dates in May and June will be made available later in the year.
If you’re travelling farther afield, the futuristic Superblue Miami experience features a mirrored labyrinth by Es Devlin and a light-based Ganzfeld installation by James Turrell. If you want to travel deep into the metaverse, you can explore digital art collections (NFTs) on virtual reality platforms like Decentraland and Cryptovoxels.
Immersive art experiences aren’t designed as a replacement for traditional art — they’re meant to complement it.
It’s a bridge between the old and the new — and it’s bringing art to a whole new audience.
To book ‘Ride a Flying Fish’, visit huntmuseum.com.