Britain’s own David Hockney OM CH RA is one of the best-loved contemporary artists, up there with Japan’s Yayoi Kusama, whose Tate Modern exhibition I had visited right before Hockney’s immersive experience at Lightroom.
Immersive experiences are all the rage, with Van Gogh’s immersive experiences taking place all over the world. Indeed, my first Arts invite of 2022 was Van Gogh Alive – and half a year later, I was invited to Mexican Geniuses: A Frida & Diego Immersive Experience.
Almost a year later, The Mancunion have been invited to see David Hockney: Bigger & Closer at Lightroom.
Lightroom has not been open very long but it attracted a whopping 75,000 visitors in its first month, with visitors flocking to see the Hockney experience.
The innovative show space was designed by the company 59 Productions in close collaboration with Haworth Tompkins, who has designed the venue as a sister space to the award-winning Bridge Theatre. The generous foyer contains a café/bar run in collaboration with St John, a gift shop and seating in the foyer and outside on the square. The venue is open seven days a week throughout the day and on most evenings.
Whilst other immersive experiences turn famous artworks into moving images, complete with melodious music, Hockney’s experience is something of a documentary. We do not merely see his art but also hear it – that is, he, via a voiceover, talks to us about his work, adding a personal touch to the experience. Of course, this is not possible with deceased artists like Vincent Van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, and Diego Rivera, so I’m glad that Lightroom has taken advantage of Hockney’s being alive!
Hockney uses the innovative venue to take the audience on a personal journey through his art, featuring iconic paintings alongside some rarely seen pieces and some newly created work. His life-long fascination with the possibilities of new media is given vibrant expression in a show that invites visitors to see the world through his eyes.
In a cycle of six themed chapters, with a specially composed score by Nico Muhly and a commentary by the artist himself, Hockney reveals his process to us. His voice is in our ears as we watch him experiment with perspective. Using photography as a way of ‘drawing with a camera’, Hockney captures the passing of time in his Polaroid collages and the joy of spring on his iPad, showing us why only paint can properly convey the hugeness of the Grand Canyon. We join him on his audio-visual Wagner Drive, roaring up into the San Gabriel Mountains, and into the opera house by means of animated re-creations of his stage designs.
From LA to Yorkshire, and up to the present day in Normandy, the show is an unprecedented opportunity to spend time in the presence of one of the great popular geniuses of the art world still innovating, still creating beauty and awe.
The show is the result of three years of close collaboration between David Hockney and the creators of Lightroom. It will be the first in a repertoire of original shows, made with leading artists and innovators, aspiring to be visually astonishing, alive with sound and rich in new perspectives.
Moving images are projected 360°, not only on four walls but also on the floor, transporting us from a big black box studio into Hockey’s glorious artworks. There were a few young children in attendance who were especially mesmerised. I recall one kid running along the floor, following something. It’s a sensuous experience for people of all ages.
Whilst other immersive experiences have multiple rooms and experiences, e.g. Van Gogh Alive‘s sunflower selfie room and Mexican Geniuses‘ VR experience, Lightroom just has the one. There are no novelties and no gratuitous photo opportunities. It’s a serious exhibition, designed to bring Hockney’s artwork to life so that visitors can experience and appreciate them in all their glory.
The lack of other rooms and experiences might render the cost of tickets a bit ‘spenny’ (or expensive) but the large number of people in attendance and the exhibition’s huge extension, suggest the cost is worth it – at least for fans of Hockney.
Whilst Hockney is not one of my favourite artists (I’m a Frida Kahlo fan), there were many paintings I do like. I was especially fond of the theatre section of this experience (for obvious reasons). But even though his art does not speak to me in the way that Kahlo’s and Van Gogh’s do, this immersive exhibit allowed me to feel his art, like never before.
David Hockney: Bigger & Closer (not smaller & further away) is currently at the Lightroom until October 1 2023. Shows run Monday to Sunday. Discounted tickets are now available for families and there will be a number of relaxed, Sensory adapted, British Sign Language and captioned shows running, details of which can be found on the website.