Experiential Art: Reimagining the Museum Experience

The art of engaging museum visitors brings together culture, technology, and science.

Museums are exploring ways to increase visitor traffic and interest in their artworks through emerging technology and interactive exhibits. Their vision is to create immersive environments to form emotional relationships with art. Instead of being set up in static installations, more exhibits are staged to stimulate people’s interest. Immersive exhibits immediately draw visitors into an exhibit, tantalizing their senses and curiosity.

Atelier des Lumières. Photo: E. Spiller

Deep Dive Experiences

Historical exhibits, for example, usually consist of complex, hard to digest content dealing with timelines, events, various historical figures, and changing territories. The exhibit designer must convert all that into bits of information that’s easily understood and enjoyed by visitors. By having visitors participate in the exhibit itself, learning history becomes fun, intriguing, and memorable.

People become engaged, learning at their own pace, and having fun while doing it. The content of the exhibit speaks for itself, providing a more satisfying experience. Museums also benefit by reducing printing costs and inventory space for guides and exhibit information, all of which can be digitized and made available on touchscreens and visitors’ smartphones.

Assembling a design team for immersive museum experiences is a feat in itself. Team members can include art historians and cultural experts, architects, interior and set designers, technology and special effects specialists, and sound and lighting engineers. All combine to develop an epic experience showcasing the art and exhilarating the visitor. We’ll explore just a few of these experiential art exhibits in museums around the world.

Cleveland Museum of Art

Discovering a museum’s collection through innovative immersion is something one must experience personally. There is no better example of this on display than at the Cleveland Museum of Art with its award-winning ARTLENS Gallery. Here, the whole family can engage in incredible responsive art through the magic of technology.

The museum’s ArtLens Studio “provides a unique introduction to the museum’s collection while building appreciation and the foundations of visual literacy for the next generation of art connoisseurs,” according to the museum’s website. There, visitors’ movements and play give them a deeper understanding of the museum’s collections. Visitors can create portraits, recreate a potter’s experience, form digital collages, and paint using motion-tracking technology. Reveal and Zoom is an interactive video wall using the body as a tool to explore masterworks, and there are many more interactive experiences to explore.

Cleveland Museum of Art

The ArtLens Exhibition connects the museum’s collection with the ArtLens Wall that puts the viewer into “conversation with masterpieces of art, encouraging engagement on a personal, emotional level.” The 40-foot, multi-touch, interactive ArtLens Wall is the largest and only one of its kind in the world. Twenty masterworks are featured and rotated with fresh ones every 24 months. Included are 16 games focused on composition, symbols, gesture + emotion, and purpose. The objective is to inspire curiosity, confidence, and understanding; to be better equipped in approaching the museum collection.

Cleveland Museum of Art

National Museum of Singapore

When in Singapore, be sure to swing by the National Museum of Singapore and experience the Story of the Forest, an immersive installation created by teamLab, a Japanese digital art collective. Sixty-nine natural history drawings from the museum’s prized William Farquhar Collection inspired three-dimensional animations shown throughout the exhibit. The interactive installation presents Singapore from its colonial past to the modern era. Visitors journey Singapore’s flora and fauna and can learn more about them in-depth with the museum’s smartphone app.

Atelier des Lumières, Paris

Paris’ first digital museum of fine arts, Atelier des Lumières, opened in 2018, displaying the works of Gustav Klimt. Over 140 laser video projectors emblazoned 32-foot high walls and 11,000 square feet of surface area with details of Klimt’s famous works. The immersive, multi-sensory exhibit covered the entire interior of the museum, a former foundry. Following the success of the Klimt exhibit, Van Gogh Monet, Chagall, and others have illuminated the museum walls and the imaginations of visitors.

The Dali Museum, Pensacola, Florida

On another level of interaction, the Dali Museum uses artificial intelligence (AI) to experience Dali like never before. The museum also has an app available to view eight of Dali’s masterworks in augmented reality (AR) right on your cell phone. Or, meet the man himself in Dali Lives and experience Dali’s bigger than life personality up close and personal using AI technology. Take a virtual reality (VR) tour of Dali’s painting Dreams of Dali and explore the world of the master of Surrealism. But if you don’t have access to a VR platform, view a linear 360° version here:

American Museum of Natural History, New York

The American Museum of Natural History in New York was one of five recipients to receive $175,000 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for their experimental project that engages audiences using immersive experiences. The museum is developing ways to transform collections data into interactive experiences, showing more context for exhibited objects. It plans to share its know-how with other museums and cultural institutions that want similar engagement for their visitors.

American Museum of Natural History

Musée des Plans-Reliefs, Paris

Even Microsoft is using its HoloLens mixed reality technology is revolutionizing the museum experience. The technology brings to life a 3D model of the Mont-Saint-Michel French monastery, a UNESCO heritage site. The model is transformed into a “holographic” experience with video context bubbles. Visitors can tour the monastery at their leisure as if they were actually there:

Tate Museum, London

How much effort goes into producing a VR experience? The Tate took five months of careful research to reimagine early 20th century Modigliani’s art studio and created an incredible VR journey called Modigliani VR: The Ochre Atelier. Every exacting detail is covered from brush strokes to period pieces, artist’s paints, and light reflections so viewers could step inside and visit the artist’s studio complete with 60 researched objects, including the artist’s sardine cans. Although the exhibit is currently closed, take a fascinating look at what’s involved in creating this VR journey:

As museums find new ways to explore their exhibits, visitors are more than eager to participate in the experiences. Perhaps our insatiable desire to discover, gain knowledge, and indulge in sensory fascination drives us to experience and connect with art in ways we’ve never imagined. And so, we stand in awe as art in the real world converges with the digital world creating new worlds for us to explore.