One of the newest and maybe most exciting changes in the art world can be the (name of the artist) experience that various institutions have been doing. These experiences are usually formed of one big room where animations departing from the artist’s artworks are projected in a 360 degree setting.
During my visit to Brussels, I had a chance to visit the “Klimt: The Immersive Experience” at Horta Gallery. After sitting in the so-called “infinity room” and watching the virtual imaging of Klimt’s artworks, I passed to the next section of the exhibition which is where the VR headsets come to the game. After couple of seconds of putting your virtual reality headsets on, the animation starts. This time, distinctive from the infinity room, you are actually immersed in a journey of flying through the elements in Klimt’s paintings. You can turn around and almost walk through the artworks.
Experiencing Klimt’s artworks through virtual reality was a life changing experience for me. In a traditional museum setting where we are always dictated to keep a distance between the artworks and ourselves, it can be very challenging to actually feel united with the artwork. As well as it is very much dependent on the way the object is displayed, the visitor’s engagement with the artwork is always limited until a certain extent.
I must say, from the moment the VR media started playing, I watched the whole thing with my mouth open. All the characteristic elements Klimt used in his paintings were flying around me, and I was completely, as the event itself proposes “immersed” in the experience. This whole 5 minute activity was full of information about the artist. To begin with, all the artworks were displayed in chronological order. This allowed me to go on a journey in Klimt’s life and see everything he has been through. Secondly, not all artworks were very romantic or happy. Some of his works’ subject matter was very macabre and somber, and these fluctuations of the artist’s emotions were fully represented with a darker background, a thrilling soundtrack and horrific animations. They designed the VR experience in such a way that the audience doesn’t only “gaze” at the artworks but rather “feels” them.
After taking off my VR headset and leaving the room, I was still having goosebumps. Yet this experience also made me think of a lot of issues in the world of art, especially when it comes to the spectator’s engagement with artworks. Even more specifically, bringing the society and the artwork together. Since artworks are very delicate and precious objects, it is often very difficult to carry them around and constantly change their display. This is even more important when it comes to older objects. In addition to their physical safety, there is a big diplomacy going around for objects to be exhibited in different museums. Furthermore, if an artwork belongs to the permanent collection of a museum, it is challenging to rip it off from its display. This concludes in the fact that many artworks are only visible to those who can travel or have these artworks available in their countries. The whole process costs a lot of money, in the end. It makes many works of art not accessible by the majority of the world’s population.
Why I think that the VR experience has a great potential in making accessible art by millions as well as increasing the audience engagement with itself is very dependent on the issues of physical artworks listed above. Of course I am well aware of the importance and magic of seeing the original painting with our bare eyes and sharing the same space with it. But the use of virtual reality in the world of art should not be despised. Visiting a museum, especially a big one can cost you a lot. 15 minutes with these glasses costed me only €2! In addition, these VR headsets can be found in or sent to a big part of the world, and when the content within is shared, everyone can be a part of the experience. Likewise the financial advantages, the VR glasses can actually facilitate the interpretation of the artworks by the audience, even ones with no artistic or art historical background. Same artworks can be displayed all around the world at the same time, with an augmented experience of it. I am very excited and hopeful to seeing such events being more and more common all around the world.
“Gustav Klimt – the Immersive Experience Brussels.” Claude Monet – The Immersive Exhibition, March 29, 2021. https://www.expo-klimt.be/en/.