New York City’s Top 5 Immersive Shows of 2013

Check out a list of New York City's top five immersive shows of 2013.

Guatier Deblonde, portrait of Yayoi Kusama in her Tokyo studio, 2013, David Zwirner Gallery, New York, NY.

The popularity of immersive exhibits in 2013 was undeniable, appearing in museums and galleries, and even on the street. Here is my official roundup of New York City’s most eye-popping immersive exhibits from 2013.

1. Yayoi Kusama (Japanese, b.1929), I Who Have Arrived In Heaven, David Zwirner Gallery New York, NY

Different versions of Kusama’s famous Infinity Room have been constructed and exhibited in New York before, but this time, the show created a mini phenomenon, making a visit to David Zwirner gallery an experience all on its own. When the exhibition first opened, word quickly spread of its impactful nature, and from then on, the outrageously long lines started to form. In order to see the Infinity Room, visitors lined up for upwards of five hours. Once the wait was over, they would be ushered into a large white room situated just outside the entrance to the exhibition. Benches lined the wall of this room, and, in assembly-line fashion, visitors moved along the benches, inching closer to the room itself. Once admitted, the experience was timed at 45 seconds, but was completely worth it despite the ostensible brevity. As soon as the door to the room closed, the visitor was transported to a celestial world made of strings of light, which flicker on and off rhythmically, momentarily enveloping the viewer in a micro-cosmos before coming to a quick end. It is a short-lived experience, but a poignant one nonetheless because the viewer becomes part of an environment created by the artist, and by extension, is fully immersed in the artwork itself. All thoughts of the arduous process of making it to the room disappear after experiencing this overwhelmingly moving space.

2. JR (French, b.1983), Inside Out Project, Times Square, New York, NY

In the spring of 2013, French artist JR conducted an interactive art project in the bustling center of Times Square. He chose Times Square as the location for his project because it was the site of the first photo booth ever invented. JR brought his own photo booth to this epicenter of New York, and asked participants to enter the booth to take self-portraits that would then be immediately printed and pasted onto the ground. While this interactive exhibit was in progress, the street surrounding Times Square became a checker board of faces. This project functioned both as a piece of public art and as immersive art by inviting audience participation. During this project, JR took over the area, and generated an enormous amount of hype, attracting large numbers of willing participants. His objective was to recreate the experience of having a photo taken in this public space, and for it to be shared with the public. With this piece, JR took a simple idea and turned it into a cultural spectacle.

3. rAndom International, Rain Room, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY

The Rain Room is truly a marvel of engineering, but some have questioned whether it is actually an art piece. Nevertheless, this past summer, crowds flocked to the MoMA in the blazing heat for their chance to experience the Rain Room. The piece was designed by an artist collective called rAndom International, and was previously exhibited in London before arriving in New York. This exhibition provided visitors with a unique opportunity to exercise a form of environmental control. Upon entering the room, visitors were able to control the rain surrounding them, and this ability to break with the laws of nature, for however short a time, is what inspired so much fascination. The actual mechanics of the room are impressive in their own right. Sensory technology was used to give viewers the illusion of control. Sensors were placed in the room and programmed to detect the presence of a human body, and in response, shut down. This is what allowed visitors to turn the rain on and off as they moved through the exhibition. Above all, the Rain Room invited visitors to become part of the art because it relied fully on audience engagement in order to function as it was intended.

4. James Turrell (American, b.1943), Aten Reign, the Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY

This past summer, the Guggenheim Museum hosted James Turrell’s first museum show since 1981. The highlight of this show was the piece Aten Reign. It was a site-specific piece designed in a conical shape, and was comprised of five concentric rings. This feat of engineering was suspended from the ceiling in the museum’s famous rotunda. Using both natural light from the glass chamber at the top of the rotunda along with artificial light, Turrell created a moving light show for museum visitors. Turrell is best known for his use of light as his chosen medium, and this show was no exception. The objective of this piece was to invite visitors into a state of meditative contemplation as they viewed the changing colors in the light construction hovering above them. This piece was meant to call into question what constitutes human perception, and allow visitors to see light as an essential entity all on its own.

5. Richard Serra (American, b.1939), Inside Out, Gagosian Gallery, New York, NY

This show, on view through February 8, is an important immersive exhibition that began in 2013. Serra’s work is on display in both of Gagosian’s Chelsea galleries, but it is the piece Inside Out at the 21st Street location that is particularly awe inspiring. The large-scale sculpture fills up the entire gallery space. It is the elephant in the room that truly cannot be avoided. The piece, noted for its distinct curvature, towers over the viewer. When you first see it, there is a need to explore its exterior, to walk around the perimeter, and to soak in its largesse. After circling the outside of the sculpture, visitors can also explore the interior through one of several entrances. Narrow paths lead to open, circular spaces within the sculpture, making viewers feel fully immersed in the piece. Sculpture can often feel remote and uninviting, but Inside Out encourages viewers to not just view, but to understand what it is like to become part of something monumental.

The year 2013 was filled with an array of innovative, audience-engaging exhibits, providing stiff competition for 2014.

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