Immersive digital experiences based on old master artists, sometimes called digital art museums, have been propagating around the globe in recent years. Ever since the original “Immersive Van Gogh” experience by Massimiliano Siccardi was featured in an episode of Emily in Paris, and then later some of the first copycat Van Gogh experiences were a light for us in the early emergence from the dark of the pandemic. Now it seems a new Immersive <Old Master> Experience is opening up every other month.
Reviving and digitally reinterpreting the works of old masters is a trend lately because the copyright for these classics often falls Into the public domain. Anyone can republish the content and make something old seem new again, and benefit from well-known artists' names. Did you know that at one point there were actually 6 different competing versions of an immersive Van Gogh experience that were touring the world simultaneously? Sometimes there were even two in the same city at the same time. If you were confused about seeing Van Gogh in NYC in 2021 or bought tickets to one show only to arrive at another, then you were not alone.
Admittedly, I have found many of the old master remixes to be rather underwhelming. I have sat through the shows twice just to feel like I was getting my money’s worth or because there was air conditioning on a hot day. A few experiences gave practically no insight into the life, techniques, or influences of the artist. Some are just displayed on 4 walls and a floor in a generic big box venue. Yawn. Occasionally you’ll find a sprinkling of interactivity or a little twist, but for many of us who are immersive junkies, they have become rather predictable.
On a recent trip to London, I visited Frameless near the Marble Arch Underground Station. I figured it was going to be another predictable old master’s remix and I only allocated 45 minutes to do a quick run-through of the experience. I was pleasantly surprised by Frameless and even rearranged my day so I could spend more time there.
Here are 10 reasons why London’s Frameless is the best remix of old master immersive experiences:
1. Frameless has a great portal into the experience. Almost any experience designer or world builder will tell you it’s important to have a tunnel, portal, ritual, or other transitionary space that transports you away from the default world you just left and brings you into the new world they have created for you. Instead of having guests descend to the main galleries on just any old escalator, Frameless turned their entry into a satisfying kaleidoscopic journey.
2. Frameless celebrates many old master artists. Instead of devoting an entire show to solely one artist, Frameless presents collections of artists who represent significant influential art movements and styles: Impressionists, Abstractionists, Surrealists, and landscapes. Van Gogh and Monet, yes, but also Mondrian, Turner, Bosch, Seurat, Rembrandt, Morisot, and many more.
3. Frameless encourages exploration. Each collection is presented in one of 4 different environments specifically designed to suit its content. One used mirrors, one had transparent screens arranged in a maze-like configuration, and one had cleverly hidden the projectors in the ceiling for a complete 6-direction visualization. The 4 diverse environments made it feel like you were getting 4 shows for the price of one.
4. Frameless inspires play and participation. There was interactivity in one or two environments, and it was fun watching grown-ups sashay around the floor kicking petals and dots around, sometimes in a dramatic dash across the room. One scene evoked a sweet romantic vibe and a couple added to the show with their own little slow dance and an embrace. A good experience brings the audience into the moment and inspires them to play or be a part of the show.
5. Frameless knows audiences today have short attention spans. Each environment had a video that lasted 20+ minutes and was a mix of up to a dozen artists. Each artist was only featured for a few minutes. If you loved one, great. If not, you need only wait a few minutes for new content.
6. Audio and animation styles were perfectly tuned to the content theme and artist's style. Avant-garde retro jazz accompanies a blocky and geometric Mondrian segment. Romantic classical for Monet. Swashbuckling anthems for one of Rembrandt’s stormy seas. This may almost seem like common sense, but I’ve seen plenty of shows where the music didn’t quite match the master.
7. Information panels were provided with some historical context of each art movement. While I love eye candy and a good trippy light show, for something that showcases historical masters, it’s appropriate to also provide learning moments and insights for those who want to dive deeper.
8. Frameless has a classy cafe with a bar. Art pairs well with a glass of wine, a sandwich, or a pastry, especially if the environment is inviting and you can hang out as long as you want discussing brushstroke techniques and otherwise geeking out with a friend while playing hooky from work on a Tuesday afternoon. This is also a very smart move for the business as having a thoughtful Food & Beverage program can be a major revenue stream.
9. The Frameless gift shop felt like a museum store. With the large number of artists on display in the digital experiences, the gift shop was able to include a vast array of items for sale. Instead of a huge quantity of the same designs printed on every single item, there was a quality of product and a diversity of options.
10. The Frameless website extends the exhibition. Couldn’t take it all in, or did you forget some of the art or artists that were part of the exhibition? No problem, the Frameless website details every painting, artist, and audio track for later reference. There was also a thorough team and contributor panel onsite that gave credit where credit is due.
If there was one complaint I have about Frameless and their remix and reinterpretations of old masters in a digital art environment, it's that in order to keep the experience appropriate for all ages, they presented two extremely conservative segments from The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch. I think if you are going to visit that particular garden, you should really dive in. For that particular audience and venue, I totally understand the choice, but I truly hope someone produces an adult version of a Bosch immersive experience.. and that I get invited to that party for sure!
Which Immersive Master Remixes have you seen, and which artists do you hope someone brings to life in this format?