Down the Rabbit Hole at “Frameless”, London.

Distilled Post

From Winter 2022, Londoners will have the opportunity to - quite literally - walk through some of art history’s grand masterpieces at “Frameless”. From Van Gogh and Frida Kahlo, visitors will have the opportunity to become part of world-renowned pieces. In a large, basement room in central London, art seekers can expect to walk on mirrored floors while hundreds of Salvador Dalí’s clock faces melt and dribble beside, above and – so it appears at least – below them. 

To some, this could be disconcerting; however, Britain’s biggest immersive experience boasts an opportunity to let “art break free”. In this context, “free” means free of frames, but also of physical presence, as this is an art show that doesn’t contain any actual tangible art. The capital has plenty of other options if real paintings are your bag. Frameless, instead, offers 90 minutes of Instagram-friendly, son et lumière experience across 30,000 sq feet of London bunker.

Immersive Art: Reconnecting the General Public to Traditional Masters?

“Frameless”  is one of many technology-driven “immersive” installations, which have grown popular in recent years. Operated by artist studios, collectives, and production companies, immersive art projects range in finesse from sophisticated new-media installations to animated retrospectives of Impressionist painters. Their popularity can be attributed to their approachability which, Frameless’ curator Rosie O’Connor states, is oftentimes absent from traditional gallery spaces:

“A lot of people are quite intimidated by going into a traditional gallery space. For your average person, there are a lot of white walls, and a lot of art historians saying clever things around you. And you’re looking at this painting thinking, what am I supposed to be feeling?”

Digital Experiences: Revolt Against the Corporate Art World 

So, what are viewers supposed to feel when they enter an immersive art space? Overwhelming emotion? Total body immersion? Art critic and theorist Rosalind Krauss argues that immersive art arrives at a time when museums have grown more corporate, and also face pressure to diversify their collections and expand their audiences. They represent a want to “alter the nature of museums” and “forego history in the name of a kind of intensity of experience.”

Once spaces full of objects, carefully arranged to tell a story, today’s art spaces revolt against flashy, “starchitect”-designed museum buildings. They utilist technology to rebel against the norm or what is expected. Viewers can expect to find open gallery spaces, which demand work of a certain size and scale, to be replaced with more fluid and intimate structures. Or, the lack of. 

Instead, popular art today favour installations that uphold innovative use of the environment and technology. No longer tangible, financial assets - artworks of today reclaim the experiential element of engaging with a piece. They are a reflection of today’s age of “experiences” - a term that evokes a tired trope that millennials—the most indebted generation in history—value travel and ephemeral encounters over material goods. 

No matter how “tired” or hackneyed the trope, immersive art is certainly ephemeral. Nomadic, perhaps, in the way it moves with the viewer. Most of these exhibitions travel the world, showing in cities across Europe, Asia, and North America. Many are mounted in empty or transitional commercial spaces, as stopgaps of sorts, until a new tenant arrives. Cities, these days, are rich with empty box stores, event spaces, and theatres. These are the spaces in which immersive art finds itself: close, easy to approach and accessible to the viewing public - something that is made possible through the creative flexing of technology. 

What visitors wanted from “Frameless” was the sensation of proximity and closeness—not to the paintings themselves, but to the idea of them. The exhibit was a technology demo that traded on mythology, and executed it effortlessly. Like all digitally driven immersive experiences, “Frameless” remains an unusual - and layman-friendly - aesthetic achievement.