Imagine viewing some of the finest art collections on an island near Menorca, in what used to be the 18th century outbuildings of a naval hospital. Or being immersed in a curatorial space dedicated to sound and music. Or finding yourself wandering around in projected floating flower garden mirrored above and below. Whatever the experience, the art world is finding new ways to engage their audiences and these trends are reshaping what it means to connect and consume art in the modern age.
When Hauser & Wirth unveiled its latest gallery based on Illa del Rei, in Menorca, its objective was not just to open a space where art could be shown, but instead, it was to create a destination where its visitors could experience “art in connection with education, nature and conservation.”
With education and sustainability at its core, visitors can participate in screenings, talks and workshops at the art centre, wander around its eight galleries and an outdoor sculpture trail that includes the work of artists like Joan Miró and Franz West, and eat in its on-site restaurant, The Cantina, that serves seasonal and local produce that focuses on seafood.
“It’s an experience that we offer where art is at the heart, but it is also a deeply inclusive model, said Iwan Wirth, Co-President of Hauser & Wirth in a video about the making of the new gallery. “It’s a holistic concept, that by nature, is community-based.”
The gallery partnered with Fundació Hospital de l’Illa del Rei, a non-profit organisation, to help safeguard its efforts to protect the environment and its heritage, which has spent the past 15 years working on transforming the historical site and restoring it with a community of volunteers.
“Menorca is rich in history, heritage and culture, and this new art centre can help place the island on the contemporary art world map,” said Mar Rescalvo Pons, Director of Hauser & Wirth Menorca. ‘We have been overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of the local community, and are collaborating with several local initiatives to foster connections.”
Likewise, the intimate setting of artgenève, which limits the number of exhibitors to a smaller number of galleries than its regional peers like Art Basel, allows for the art fair to create more spacious settings; with private lounges and large-scale specialised exhibitions that visitors can stroll around in at a more leisurely pace while focusing on building connections amongst its cosy community setting.
“We never wanted to become too big or for it to feel too stuffy,” said Thomas Hug, Director and Founder of artgenève. “Visitors are able to really appreciate the generosity of the space and the refined set-up, and it allows us to host other kinds of institutional and curated projects that we otherwise would not be able to consider if we had to think about fitting more commercial exhibitors in.”
“The community is also very different,” he added. “Dealers are able to really speak to potential buyers and other art professionals, there is the possibility of more time and attention, and to build more of a connection between the two parties. So, it’s really a unique experience.”
More intimate experiences like these are just some of the ways in which the art world is adapting to meet the desires of modern audiences, where individuals want to be engaged with what they see and to enter into a more open dialogue.
Keeping a connection and an open dialogue is not just limited to seeing art in a physical space. One way in which the art world has connected with its audiences is online through social media, as seen with the Tate museum in the UK, which used its channels like Instagram during the pandemic as a way of staying connected with its fans even when they were unable to physically visit its galleries.
By highlighting works of art in its collections, creating a series of artwork dedications from one individual to another, posting challenges of shared art activities as well as writing captions or sharing videos that aimed to educate by explaining an artist’s process, meaning or techniques, the Tate demonstrated how to stay connected to its audience, and it was these kinds of solutions that opened up art lovers to a more digitally influenced experience.
“We saw the closure of galleries and fairs see the strengthening of digital solutions for collectors to see and buy work. Platforms such as online marketplace Artsy continued to see strong art sales despite the market downturn,” said Chimere Cisse, Co-Founder of Art Consultancy ArtKorero, which bridges the gap between artists and brands.
“Visitors, who were previously used to having the ability to experience art regularly through gallery openings and museum blockbusters, had to seek out new avenues of creativity,” she continued. “It’s not surprising that the explosion of NFTs took place during a period of lockdown. Millions of people were literally sitting behind their screens, housebound. It was the perfect setting for a digital revolution.”
However, as the world tentatively returns to normalcy – many countries have lifted all restrictions related to COVID in the past few months – the act of viewing art physically will also return and with that, the desire to immerse oneself in the experience.
“We are by nature social creatures, so yes, in-person events will return. There is no doubt in my mind,” said Cissé. “Already we have seen the return of in-person art fairs in 2021. Even at this season’s fashion week, the front row was again full. If we have to ever go back to online events, we now have better capabilities to do this, but I don’t see it being a preference.”
The popularity of the work from TeamLab - an international art collective of various specialists like artists, programmers, engineers, animators, and architects – and even Grande Experiences, the company behind exhibitions like Van Gogh Alive, certainly speaks to how immersive experiences is reshaping the art world.
“Art enthusiasts have been spoiled with immersive art experiences that have toured the world in the last years - from Van Gogh’s digital light show to Kusama’s experiential retrospective, from Melbourne to New York, Dubai to London,” said Cissé.
“The rise of the blockbuster touring show has brought our favourite art to life, we’ve seen incredible productions," she added. I think as staging and digital experiences continue to evolve, people will come to expect a high standard of art show delivery. Rather than just viewing static pictures on a wall, they’ll want to be truly entertained and informed in clever and unique ways.”
The opportunities to further develop the experience of art are also growing as younger consumers demonstrate more interest in the art world, be that through cross-industry tie-ups, the expansion of these immersive experiences, or the booming growth of the Non-Fungible Tokens (NFT).
“We hold a lot of original events to reach new art lovers,” said Hug, who has seen an evolution from older to younger audiences since founding artgenève ten years ago. “We have also held pop-ups events in Venice, Paris, Munich, and London where we keep maintaining our strong connection to our clientele, through music, performances or gastronomy and other areas where art is linked.”
“In the future, we want to explore other destinations,” said Hug, adding that he wanted to focus on hosting fairs in cities where art galleries were fewer but where demand has been growing.
Looking forward, how the future experience of art will evolve really depends on those who want to engage with the industry. This year’s edition of artgenève will showcase its first NFT at the fair, and demand is growing from young consumers to showcase more of these types of art at events.
“There is a new younger generation of collectors emerging, who are unbridled to the past and the traditions of the art world,” said Cissé. They will demand fast access to emerging mediums such as NFTs and AI engineered art, and will be bold enough to take a chance on niche ideas, young artists and digitally progressive work. They’ll also expect seamless transactions and verifications. This generation never experienced a world pre-internet. We must remember that.”