‘Frida,’ the latest immersive show to land in Boston, is a spectacle — but is it art?

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Frida Kahlo’s niece Mara R. Kahlo (left) and the great niece Marade Anda are in town for the “Frida: Immersive Dream” to be held at Sanders Castle in Park Plaza this week. They saw a special presentation of the show. Lane Turner / Globe Staff

The principals of the Frida Kahlo Foundation, based in Mexico City, were in Boston on Wednesday to give the final blessing to the “Frida: Immersive Dreams” at the castle the next day. Join the field of immersive “experiences” inspired by the already crowded art. One in Dochester and the other in the South End, two Van Gogh-themed shows. But the local scene is just a moment in a larger, faster-growing industry.

The Dozens of such projects have been seen in the last two years. There are five in Van Gogh alone. According to the Van Gogh Museum, he died in 1890. That is, since 1960, the artist’s work has not been protected by copyright. In Amsterdam; a spokesperson there explained that reproduction rights are retained by the artist’s property for only 70 years after his death. It will be a free and fair game for his work and countless others. And Van Gogh’s brand awareness made him an immersive field poster child. One or another version visited various centers such as Dubai and Saskatoon in Saskatchewan.

Major Americans and Europeans City I’m on the circuit and Boston is one of them. Lighthouse Immersive, the Toronto-based company that produced Frida: Immersive Dream, has its current production at Gustav Klimt and its own Van Gogh show (neither of the two currently running here).

However, “Frida: Immersive Dream” is different. It is the product of a partnership with the Foundation and retains exclusive rights to her work (at least for now, Carlo died 68 years ago in 1954). She asked Foundation Director De Anda, and if she and her chairman Carlo were hesitant when the lighthouse approached, she would be bright. “No, we were excited,” she said. “This is new for a new generation. Maybe this is a new museum — it’s not just about Frida’s paintings, but how she lived.”

Alberto Fiero Garza, Consul General of Mexico in Boston, talks about “Frida: an Immersive Dream” at Sanders Castle in Park Plaza. Lane Turner / Globe Staff

Such comments chill the spine of museum directors around the world. The popularity of the early immersive fields is undeniable. With the help of the Van Gogh project, Lighthouse told me that it sold about 5 million tickets in North America and sold about $ 200 million. Mario Iacampo, artistic director of another project, Van Gogh: Immersive Experience, currently in Dochester, sold about 3.5 million tickets to The Wall Street Journal in December, with the show in 13 cities. He said he did. For your reference, Here at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston said that In 2019, the last year before the pandemic, we sold 1.35 million tickets.

Matthew Teitelbaum, director of MFA, was cautious about the increase in immersive phenomena. “I could feel that both were real, within the conditions they set. It’s a museum experience with real works of art and an immersive experience as a kind of entertainment,” he said. Told. “I’m not afraid of glasses. But the sight for me begins to collapse when it’s not based on the voice of the artist. I’m not saying I strongly agree or disagree with it. I think there is a big challenge. It’s about making the difference very clear. “

In Toronto, I met Corey Ross, one of the founders of the lighthouse. He raises concerns that immersive museums may become unfounded and outdated. “I don’t think they are competitive. I see them as complementary,” he said. The lighthouse has a permanent space on the Toronto waterfront and can carry out three projects at once. Currently, Van Gogh and Klimt are on display. For him, the project is “like reading a book about Van Gogh or going to a movie about Van Gogh. These are different ways to interact with and experience an artist.”

It is important to see the immersive phenomenon as a medium, not as a genre. The Projects are dramatically different, with very different degrees of quality and production value, just like movies, TV shows and video games.

But as a quiet, yet experienced person who is in front of the paintings I love, I approached the media with suspicion and caution. Klimt’s show was not a cure. I stepped into the peculiar mourning of David Bowie singing “Heroes” in German. (Don’t ask me — Bowie lived in West Berlin in the 1970s; Klimt died in Vienna in 1918. He meandered around the space.

Seems to confirm my general feeling Immersive is often unrelated to the actual art and is not what the artist intended. One of the almost universal metaphors of the medium is not stationary. The painting is subdivided and then seismic, melted, or transformed into some form. In Klimt’s work, perhaps Klimt’s most famous work, “Hope I,” featured a red-haired pregnant woman. Multiply by an array of sizes. One of them is a two-story building. Her face blended into something like a skull, and confusingly, a pair of naked live-action dancers emerged from the mud of the video. For a few minutes, the dancer groped, snorted, soared, and duplicated on screens throughout the room.

Ross, co-founder of the lighthouse When I saw the project “Imagine Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience” by French production teams Annabel Moger and Julian Baron (one of the two currently on display in Boston) in Paris in 2019. He has a good reputation as a promoter of music and theater. He soon realized the wide range of possibilities for forms as an entertainment platform.

“I got a call from a sports league and a call from a movie company,” he said. “There is a lot of interest in trying to understand how to get involved in this from many different places.” Among the many potential partners he is talking about include George Lucas and Madonna. He says there are two major international museums he didn’t name.

Frida Kahlo’s niece Mara R. Caro and her nephew Mara de Anda had a “Frida: Immersive Dream” that opened this week. Lane Turner / Globe Staff

In Boston, Ross’s partner Svetlana Dvoretsky was on hand to conquer Carlo and De Anda in an immersive Frida. A rotating tableau cobbled from fragments of Carlo’s paintings and drawings that rise above. In the easy-to-understand work “Diego on My Mind (self-portrait as Tewana)”, a portrait of Diego Rivera was embedded in Caro’s forehead, and she had a difficult marriage, but a colorful cloud. Disappeared from the starry sky swimming in. .. A visual guide — a stylized hammer and sickle, nods to her communist devotion. Image of the worker, a reflection of her loyalty to the indigenous Mexicans and the working poor — disappearing inside and outside the visual typhoon.

When everything was quiet, Dvoretsky shrugged the contempt sometimes caused by the immersive form of art. “We understand that we are not a museum. We understand that we are not delivering real crafts to people,” she said. “But we strongly believe that we are expanding and popularizing art in general.”

perhaps. But last fall, I had a “Van Gogh: Immersive Experience” at the Strand Theater in Dorchester. This should not be confused with “Van Gogh: Imagine an Immersive Exhibition” still running at the SoWa power plant. A terribly recreated painting case, along with a close-up video of his clumsy animated work.

“Van Gogh: Immersive Experience” at the Strand Theater.Jonathan Wigs / Gloves Staff

I was more disappointed than I expected. But the show was also clear. I immediately saw “experience” as an elaborate non-linear documentary film. And like any other movie, its quality depends on the creative team, not the media itself. The Strand version was a one-star review for me, but the SoWa power plant’s “Imagine Van Gogh” was a whole different thing.

In a space three times as large as a strand, a towering screen rises in all directions and is filled with the artist’s overflowing still images of brushstrokes. They were just high resolution photographs of the surface of the work in huge close-ups. There were no quotations, narrations, busy dissolve sequences, or animation layers that chopped the canvas into digital bits.

Visitors to the “Imagine Van Gogh” at the SOWA power plant.

Sae Yamamoto Criter / Globe Staff

I went with my family and wanted a perspective on the experience I thought I totally hated.But I didn’t need it — standing next to a huge pillar in Van Gogh’s intense sky, or the fertile lush of his roses and tulips was unexpected. Fascinating.

It was a completely divorced painting experience that I have cherished most of my life, and I didn’t hate it. But there was something else. My 11-year-old son, who was a little-spoken boy at his best, voluntarily unraveled Van Gogh’s ectenia of biofacts in amazing detail. He lived despite his brother Theo’s timeless efforts to promote him, despite how he cut his own ears in a bout of despair.

In any case, there was a kid here who was dragged into the museum before he could walk — and he was as enthusiastic about the experience as a detention or dentist — finally engrossed. rice field. We had something in common. I was able to talk to him about Van Gogh’s intuitive colors and techniques, which have had a tremendous impact on art production for decades. He taught me about Arles and his ears. We took turns talking and listening. For us, this was a new turf.

For me, even these best shows (see “Imagine Van Gogh”) never get close to seeing the work itself. But I can finally see some value in them. For those who just go to the museum and kick, scream, get bored, threaten, or both, this 21st century interface may inspire their interest.

Whatever the immersive, non-uniform beginnings, they deserve a little time, says Teitelbaum.

“This is an early idea,” he said. “Maybe it’s more important to stay with the question than to support or reject it. Who knows where it leads?”


You can contact Murray Whyte at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @TheMurrayWhyte..

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