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EXPERIENCE AGE

IMMERSIVE EXHIBITIONS

20th April 2022 | Guest Writer: Margherita Nussio
This month, guest writer Margherita Nussio explores the trend of immersive exhibitions, highlighting the history of the Experience Economy and reflecting on its validity in the art world.

In 1998 Harvard Business Review titled an article “Welcome to the Experience Economy”: we live in the age of the experience, where brands and services need to engage the consumer (us!) at 360 degrees, offering an experience that elevates our spirit, consciousness and gives us the possibility to do something that is out of the ordinary, that is something else.

This is the context where immersive exhibitions were created: the Age of the Experience. Going to the National Gallery to see Van Gogh's Flowers is not enough, we need to experience it, to be immersed in the painting and in its history to feel something. I believe we should change the name from experience economy to “feel something economy”. When everything is accessible nothing is exciting anymore.
The wow-effect is not something new in the history of art. An interesting example is the Wunderkammern in the 17th century, where wealthy North European collectors were creating rooms to create “Wunder” (excitement) for their visitors, exhibiting strange pieces, exotic animals and interesting artifacts in the same space.

"Musei Wormiani Historia," the frontispiece from the Museum Wormianum depicting Wormius' cabinet of curiosities. Ole Worm Museum, Leiden, 1655.

We can argue that immersive exhibitions could help the visitor to have a better understanding of the context in which a work of art was created and in which the artist used to live. This is a common trait of American Museums: in fact, they often have period rooms that are created ad hoc to give to the visitor a glimpse of the context in which a specific artefact was made. We can then find a Renaissance room, a Medieval room, and so on, where curators try to recreate what rooms in a castle looked like.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Frank Lloyd Wright Room, 1912-1914 (Wayzata, Minnesota) (Gallery 745)

If we step away from a Eurocentric view of art, is quite easy to understand why the approach to curatorship is completely different: in Europe is often cheaper to buy a ticket to Athens or to Paris than to have dinner in a local restaurant. It’s not difficult to understand why experience exhibitions are popular in the US. It could be interesting to try to understand why in Europe, where art is far more accessible, they are getting more in demand.

Covid-19 has exacerbated something that has been going on for at least a decade: the possibility to experience the world (and art) through a screen and how used we are to this. In fact, everyone has the possibility, with Google Art, to explore a room of the Uffizi or in the National Gallery from their sofa or from a tent in the middle of the desert. During the pandemic, galleries and museums have tried to find new ways to engage visitors, offering virtual tours of their collections and activities to do over Zoom or Microsoft teams.

Sala della Niobe (Niobe's Room), Second Floor. From the Uffizi's virtual tour. Uffizi, Florence, Italy.

It shouldn’t then surprise us that experiencing art through some projectors became the next logical step even in a Continent where art and museums are more accessible than in other parts of the world.

Immersive exhibitions have helped to diversify the audience of a museum. It’s often quite amusing to see that there are two categories of people that go to museums are galleries: the connoisseurs (or people that have had the possibility – and luck!- to have a good education and can appreciate art) and tourists. The average Londoner will not go to Tate every two weeks to see what’s new or to the National Gallery on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Museums are often perceived as “a tourist thing” and galleries as inapproachable places.

Flower Power: Van Gogh’s work, displayed digitally, at L’Atelier des Lumières, Paris.

The immersive exhibition gave the possibility to experience something different and get closer to art to people that wouldn’t normally consider going to a museum something to do on a Saturday afternoon. They don’t require specific knowledge of the artist, they are not difficult to understand and, more importantly, they are the perfect place where to take a picture for Instagram and the perfect selfie. The visitor is immersed in colours and can see the work of art moving and changing through the screens. There is nothing required, nothing to know beforehand. There is just something to see and feel.

I believe that people that appreciate a standard way of seeing art have the tendency to be quite snobbish about it. Maybe we should take a step back and see immersive exhibitions as a way to democratise art and as a way to make art more relevant in 2022.


If it will help even one more person to get closer to art and culture, then those exhibitions make sense.
About the Writer
Margherita Nussio was born and raised in Udine, a small town in the northeast of Italy, where the proximity of Austria and Slovenia creates an interesting middle-European mix.

She studied Art History at La Sapienza University of Rome and life brought her to London, to undertake a Master's degree at SOAS, University of London, in Contemporary Art of Asia and Africa. She is curious, passionate and always wandering around, trying to discover new things about London and the world.

@margheran

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