Let’s be real, exhibitions are not always the most exciting day out. Remember those days of traipsing around a sterile gallery, wishing for the relative excitement of the café? Well, things are changing in the art and fashion world: now, exhibitions are using immersion to make headlines, employing creativity and innovation in order to draw the crowds in and keep them coming back.
Whilst the main focus of any immersive exhibition, in the same way as traditional displays, is the work itself. This work is now routinely showcased using new and multi-sensory elements. These include VR experiences, live performances, projections and space reconfigurations, all of which add a sense of immersion to the exhibition experience, and leave audiences connecting to the art on a new level.
Take Banksy’s 2015 ‘Dismaland’: a walk through parody of Disneyland, and amusement parks in general, located in Weston-Super-Mare. This pseudo-exhibition centered on experience and immersion as the key to fully appreciating Banksy’s art. More recently, the elusive street artist transformed an entire art auction into an exhibition, by shredding an existing piece that was up for auction in a dramatic display of immersive, performance art that you’ve probably seen replayed hundreds of times on your feeds.
Speaking of Instagrammable art, the Van Gogh installation in which the artist’s works are projected onto the walls and floor around you, completely transforming the space you’re in, has been everywhere on social media recently. And who can forget Yayoi Kusama – a pioneer of immersion in art with her celebrated mirror infinity rooms, now showing at the Tate, sold out until 2022 and seemingly the hottest ticket in London. Similarly, a smoke-bubble exhibition has just opened in London, in which ticket-holders can walk around the space, popping the many smoke bubbles that appear.
So what’s the draw? It’s hoped that by creating these immersive experiences, modern day artists can achieve an elevated level of interest in their work – mostly through its shareability on social media. However, in the same breath, this has also been the main argument against the dizzying rise of immersive art. Despite garnering hundreds of thousands of views on TikTok, the smoke-bubble exhibition recently received a damning 1-star review from TimeOut, who said that “there’s no point reviewing this installation as a work of art, because that’s not really what it is. It’s something to post on social media, something to go and do between shopping in Soho and brunch at Brasserie Zedel. It’s to art what Harry Potter World is to cinema”.
Aside from the Harry Potter slander (what is cinema without Harry Potter?!), the conflict of social-media-aimed exhibitions in art has also translated to fashion. To start with, fashion exhibitions often require a greater level of immersion than art due to the nature of the work displayed: people want an understanding of the designer and design process often through film as well as seeing the finished garment. This was seen in 2015, when Louis Vuitton took over 180 The Strand with a free, immersive exhibition that used projection and mirroring to create a highly-instagrammable monogram wall, as well as mock-runway space.
Fast-forward to 2021, we’ve seen brands push further: in Milan, Gucci opted out of a traditional runway show, instead hosting an experience-based presentation to mark the unveiling of their new online space Gucci Vault. This was described by Gucci as “a time machine, an archive, a library, a laboratory, and a meeting place”, and succeeded in infiltrating global social media feeds, in a way that the exclusivity of a traditional runway show couldn’t logistically do. Continuing this momentum, the fashion house has opened a concept store in Shoreditch – which offers Gucci coffee, films and history via a ‘library’. Here, Gucci has harnessed the trend of immersivity and used it to reach global audiences on and offline – and who doesn’t want a Gucci coffee?
In South Korea, Bottega Veneta has given up the facade of promoting collections or products completely in their latest venture into immersivity. Constructing an actual maze, the installation takes inspiration from house lines and campaigns – with ‘Bottega Green’ making up the colourway and design inspiration. Bottega’s iconic faux fox tails have also been used here, with an interactive, textured wall of them making the perfect photo-backdrop and already becoming an influencer favourite.
Meanwhile, London based streetwear brand Corteiz has been opting into immersivity in a different way: by creating real-life scavenger hunts for their latest drops. In September, hundreds of people raced through the streets of Soho trying to get their hands on the newest pieces from Corteiz – a brand who have truly capitalised on the power of connectivity, using a winning formula of social media hype and exclusivity as their only form of advertising. Here, the drop became the exhibition itself, a piece of performance art so disruptive that it could only be subdued by eventual police involvement.
No matter the method, it’s clear that being able to infiltrate the algorithms on social media is now a major concern to fashion brands, designers and artists alike. However, if done incorrectly, the whole event can come off as vapid and, well, just a bit dead. It seems that as we progress into an increasingly immersive exhibition landscape, brands will have to think harder and more creatively about what works, and how they can continue to occupy the headspace of Gen Z.