“Immersive” entertainment is all the rage

A room full of visitors surrounded by projected images in the immersive King Tut exhibition.

In “Beyond King Tut: The Immersive Experience”, images of art from Tutankhamun’s tomb are projected onto screens that surround visitors. Photo: Clifford A. Sobel

Attendance is slow at cinemas and museums, but people flock to “immersive” shows that let them walk (virtually) into a Van Gogh painting, King Tut’s tomb, or a surreal fantasy world.

Why it matters: People yearn to ditch their couches and phone screens in search of transcendent experiences that allow them to move and mingle, without being tethered to a theater seat or virtual reality headset.

Driving the news: The surprising popularity of the half dozen immersive Van Gogh exhibits that competed across the US during the COVID-19 pandemic helped open the floodgates for similar shows, which make world-class art and artifacts more accessible and attractive.

  • Advances in projection mapping allow producers to create dazzling shows.
  • “You walk in and you’re transported to another world,” says Gilles Paquin, CEO of Paquin Entertainment Group, which is behind the “Immersive King Tut” show that just opened in 14 US cities. “It puts you in a zen place, A peaceful place”.

What’s going on: Production companies specializing in concerts and shows are now rushing to open immersive entertainment divisions, in part because the original “immersive Van Gogh” raked in so much money.

  • The company behind “Immersive Van Gogh,” Lighthouse Immersive, “reported that it sold more than 5 million tickets between February 2021 and May 2022, indicating that 1 in 90 Americans had purchased a ticket,” according to Artnet News. .
  • The Lighthouse’s Van Gogh shows pulled in $250 million in overall revenue, MarketWatch reports, not counting $30 million from gift shops.

Now you can also walk through the works of Monet and Klimt, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

  • Other immersive experiences, some inspired by the abstract weirdness of Meow Wolf, include outdoor Lumina Night Walks and indoor shows like Inter_, a “Fantasia”-like exhibit that just opened in beta in New York City.
  • Inter_ features a “sound bath” and interactive light tunnels, plus bubbles that are released as guests progress.
  • “Hopefully, in the future, the bubbles will fill with mist and odors,” said Ryan Nelson, co-founder of the program. “It will be a very pleasant olfactory experience.”

The trend is coming to airports and transit stations, too: a new facility at Newark Liberty International Airport was designed by Moment Factory, which also put a “color bath” at Tokyo’s Shinjuku station and multimedia amusements at Los Angeles International Airport.

  • Some shows, like SuperReal, which played last summer at the iconic Cunard Building in lower Manhattan, take advantage of the architectural uniqueness of their venue.
Spectators seated on benches at an immersive Van Gogh exhibition.
At the “Immersive Van Gogh” show in New York City last summer, visitors could sit “inside” the paintings. Photo: Clifford A. Sobel

What they are saying: When the Van Gogh show came to Paris in 2019, “I couldn’t understand how you could have such a successful immersive show in a market where there were all the best museums in the world, and then I realized it was a new art form.” “. , so to speak,” Paquin said.

  • Immersive shows transform audience members from passive to active participants, explained Jamie Reilly, general manager of Moment Factory.
  • “You blur the lines between what’s real and what’s surreal, what’s digital and what’s physical,” he told Axios.

Yes, but: Critics and audience members have called some shows underwhelming, cheesy, and expensive.

  • Van Gogh’s shows “distill turn-of-the-century French painting into a diversion as captivating as a nursery mobile,” a New York Times reviewer sneered.
  • The Daily Beast asked about “Monet’s Garden”: “Does it really do justice to Monet’s wonder?”

The bottom line: Shows that combine art, music and a happy atmosphere fit very well with the current spirit of well-being, mindfulness and mental health.

  • “We’re really encouraging people to put their problems behind them,” says Nelson of Inter_, which is run by a company called Jobi.
  • “We want to create experiences that give people a reason to get out of their house and engage with each other.”
The scene in SuperReal, an interactive exhibition of projection mapping.
SuperReal, which launched at the Cunard Building in Manhattan last summer, was a mind-blowing experience for viewers, who could lounge on giant beanbag chairs. Photo: Clifford A. Sobel

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