New York’s First Permanent Immersive Art Center Is Pivoting


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When the Hall des Lumières opened in 2022 with an inaugural installation on Gustav Klimt, it was heralded as a major step forward for the immersive art industry. However, as of February, the Hall has quietly “taken a pause” on showing art exhibitions to “curate the next series,” according to its website, “embarking on a new chapter.”

Located at the historic Emigrant Savings Bank building in Manhattan’s Financial District, the HdL has begun hosting non-art events, including puppy yoga, pilates, and an immersive whiskey tasting with Irish storytellers. It also hosted a drag show with a performance by singer-songwriter VINCINT. As of publication, there are no exhibitions or art-related events posted as upcoming.

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Why the shift? HdL appears to be looking for other ways of reaching audiences and generating revenue. In an email,  Alexandra Reiss, managing director at Hall des Lumières, told ARTnews that the new focus allows for fashion shows, brand activations, and other private events while the hall prepares for more customized exhibitions for the public.

“Some of these new shows, which have been showcased at our venues around the world, will eventually make their way here,” Reiss said. “For example, Egyptian Pharaohs – From Cheops to Ramesses II, Van Gogh – Starry Night, just to name a couple.”

Additionally, the Hall is planning to reintroduce a previous exhibition for a limited time this summer, Reiss said, although she did not reveal which one.

David Milch, the director of Baruch College’s arts administration program, told ARTnews that access appeared to be “a core value” of HdL, noting that yoga and other sensory-related activities could draw in locals who could in turn generate word of mouth to visitors less accustomed to museum-going.

“We are in a city where if we want to see a Klimt, there are museums where we can go and see the Klimt,” Milch said. “What we’re adding is this immersive sense as well as something that feels perhaps less daunting than walking up the steps at the Met.”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST 01: People attend the opening night preview of the new ‘Hip Hop Til Infinity’ immersive art installation at Hall des Lumières while a DJ plays music on August 1, 2023 in New York City. ‘Hip Hot Til Infinity’ celebrates the 50th anniversary of Hip Hop by taking visitors on a curated audio visual tour through the different eras and locations that defined the genre. (Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

People attend the opening night preview of the new ‘Hip Hop Til Infinity’ immersive art installation at Hall des Lumières while a DJ plays music on August 1, 2023 in New York City.

Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

He added that the Hall and other immersive experiences like it are experiencing a crowded market with competition ranging from the Museum of Illusions, with more than 40 interactive locations across the globe, to the Kenzo Digital-designed installation at Summit at One Vanderbilt in New York.

“Is there a market for this, and how successful are the organizations at tapping into markets and maintaining them?” Milch said. “Radio City [Music Hall] is an example of that. It’s a brand. If you’re coming to New York around the holidays, you know it may not be the same show, but it’s going to be done really well.”

To that point, HdL has explored other virtual offerings besides art exhibitions, including Destination Cosmos – Space Exploration, a partnership with NASA featuring stars, planets, nebulae, and supernovae.

In an interview with ARTnews, Noah Nelson, executive director of The Immersive Experience Institute, referred to projection gallery companies as “chasing a fad” as pandemic protocols led to pent-up demand for in-person experiences.

Netflix hit Emily in Paris also prominently featured a Van Gogh exhibition at HdL’s sister hall, L’Atelier des Lumières, in a first season episode released in fall 2020. By the next year, there were two separate immersive Van Gogh experiences in New York City alone.

Nelson said such popularity “skewed the metrics” as businesses sought to capitalize on the post-pandemic rush for social activities.

For example, he compared HdL and its parent company, Culturespaces, to a similar company, Toronto-based Lighthouse Immersive, which opened several permanent locations before filing for Chapter 15 bankruptcy protection in 2023. Lighthouse locations including Detroit, Houston, and Atlanta have since shuttered in a refocus mostly on touring exhibitions which have featured widely-known artists.

Nelson mentioned other immersive art experiences from Meow Wolf, the projection-mapped work of Tokyo collective TeamLab and New York’s Moment Factory, and the theatrical Sleep No More having audiences take an active role in the experience in contrast to HdL’s model.

“The projection galleries were technically immersive in the sense that the visual and aural elements were all around the audience, but that was about it,” Nelson said in an email. “Most of those shows didn’t try their hand at placemaking, let alone narrative, which is what those experiences above do. If you’d seen one, you’d seen them all from an experiential standpoint.”

A rather different sort of immersive art center, Superblue, has focused on developing local connections in addition to its experiential exhibitions. Contemporary artists such as James Turrell, Rafael Lozano-Hammer, and TeamLab have works on view at its Miami location.

Shantelle Rodriguez, director of experiential art centers for Superblue, touched on the need to dispel misconceptions about immersive art centers considering hit touring exhibitions.

“Traditionally, the thought when someone hears about an immersive exhibition is that it’s a pop-up,” Rodriguez said. “It’s going to move quickly somewhere else. We really wanted to show Miami we are in it for the long haul. Part of that was digging into the community immediately.”

Despite financial turmoil and board shakeups, Superblue recently celebrated its third anniversary this May with a neighborhood block party. It is set to host a summer camp for young artists, and it has received submissions from across the globe for its Chroma Art Film Festival in August. Rodriguez said she hopes other immersive spaces will create similarly expansive offerings to their communities.

“I think a lot of people should be thinking about the quality and the meaning of what they’re bringing into their spaces,” Rodriguez said. “This movement is so important because it’s opening the gates to the art world. It’s engaging audiences that maybe would have never thought to enter an art space or felt removed from the art world.

“For me, I say it’s like a gateway drug. You come in maybe thinking you’re coming to take a nice Instagram photo, and you walk out learning something, appreciating an artist’s work, wanting to maybe visit a gallery in your next travels.”

Amy Whitaker, associate professor of visual arts administration at New York University, said the pause could be useful for HdL’s business long-term.

“On the economic side, I would think they’d rather lose money on the rent or refocus on other things to cover their rent rather than have to invest in the technological programming infrastructure,” she said.
More to the point, I think they need a little time just to look at how it’s gone, back up from the canvas, and see how the painting’s going.”

She said she admired HdL’s commitment to building an art center that “sympathized” with its architectural space, and suggested the path forward may be further collaboration with artists and other program partners.

“We are wired to be susceptible to the magic of visual experience, of storytelling, of the ways in which technology can create community of experience. I think you have to be honest about that. You can’t just have it be a business to be successful. An installation work that has the utmost rigor toward wonder first, and then it’s an economic model second.”


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