I don’t need a light show to immerse myself in art

People in a large room, the floor and walls of which are covered with images of a swimmer in blue water
Visual of David Hockney’s “Gregory Swimming, Los Angeles, March 31, 1982”

Call me an art snob if you like. Old school. So I hold my hands up. I enjoy viewing artworks up close, face to face, at the size and scale on which they were conceived and created. no mess I could write you several thousand words about all the reasons why I think this is essential – but I’ll spare you.

But you can imagine that things like Van Gogh: The immersive experience, worldwide box office hit, are more of a test for people like me. To clarify, unless you’re one of the 5 million+ people around the world who have tried this, it’s basically like stepping into a giant warehouse with bits and pieces of the artist’s work taped to the walls around you be projected, room by room. hugely blown up, with soundtracks and more. Sunflowers and irises float by, detached from the paintings in which they were created; Fields of corn waving like crazy, the door of his room opens and closes, this yellow chair floats around, the artist’s red beard bristle huge and frightening. It’s all mega and magnified. immersive As a matter of fact.

Of course I understand that. I understand the urge to dive head first into the world of a painting and wrap its magic around you like a living blanket, feeling every breath and dot of it, smelling and tasting and hearing it. Doesn’t that happen anyway when you really look at something?

Vermeer takes us straight into the hushed, softly sunlit streets of Delft, to scrubbed interiors smelling faintly of soap, of lavender in the laundry press. I can imagine those fur collars feeling against my throat, the ironed smell of that starched tip.

Cézanne whisks us away into the Provencal countryside, maquis crunching underfoot, the exhaustion of a long walk to distant hills as the light turns purple and gold around us, and a tiny hint of garlic in the breeze as dinner approaches.

A single drawing by Egon Schiele can transport us to the red-light alleys of Vienna, where skinny, witty women eke out a living, illuminated by bad jazz, sour cigarette smoke, and the smell of sausages.

It’s all there. Each of the five senses. And of late there have been some powerful immersive experiences that are not extensions/tampering with smaller original works, but are created from the ground up as whole experiential works, sensational itinerant pieces like those by Japanese collective teamLab, or experiential installations like Antony Gormley’s vapor-filled exploration piece Blind Light.

But these are very different from the repurposed “Immersions” – huge buildings housing a floor-to-ceiling light show of Vincent’s disembodied sunflowers floating up the walls like crazy balloons, surrounded by the deep blue skies and starry nights of a very different kind paintings, for example. Are we at a Grateful Dead gig?

I don’t know, but maybe those millions of ticket buyers can’t be wrong. Londoners will soon be making their own decisions in a new place. Lightroom, which bills itself as “the home of spectacular artist-led shows,” will open at the King’s Cross development on February 22 to host a program of great artist works reimagined as immersive digital happenings, and beginning with David Hockney.

It’s a smart choice. First, it clarifies the big question – what would the artist have thought? What would Monet have thought of his water lilies on umbrellas and Leonardo of the Mona Lisa on fridge magnets? Maybe they wouldn’t have minded or even enjoyed it, especially if it had paid the rent. Both scale and medium are so important to artworks – Van Gogh, stricken by poverty, might not have imagined working on a giant canvas: would he have if he could? As dated as I am, I feel like artists have always adapted their vision to their circumstances, their message to their medium – but we can’t answer these questions for dead artists, or transfer their sensibilities to today’s reality.

Hockney, in a brown suit, flat cap, and yellow plastic shoes, stands in a room covered with pictures of a swimmer in a pool

David Hockney at Lightroom © Justin Sutcliffe

Hockey is different. Thank God he’s here to make present tense decisions. In a show called Bigger and closer (not smaller and further away), the huge sliding, morphing panels of its landscapes and floats, skies and trees that Lightroom will show on monumental walls are fully meant. Its processes and brushstrokes, the structure of its colors and effects will unfold before us in gigantic proportions. It will be 60 years of his work, explained in a commentary by the artist himself, all set to music by contemporary composer Nico Muhly.

Spectacular, yes, but consistent. There is perfect logic in Hockney’s career. He has always embraced new technologies and been quick to explore their potential in his art, from the unforgettable Polaroid works (possibly the best use of this form ever) to experiments with perspective through cameras, pieces created with film, video, iPad… , Instagram and more were created. This is the latest iteration and even from a distance we can sense the artist is enjoying it. Maybe even old schoolers like me will be convinced.

Jan Dalley is the art editor of the FT

“Bigger and Nearer (Not Smaller and Farther)”, February 22 to June 4, lightroom.de

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https://www.ft.com/content/0fa670f4-4fd9-488e-bdf9-774c8e32b9cb I don’t need a light show to immerse myself in art

Adam Bradshaw

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