The trend of immersive art experiences has found its way to Oklahoma, inspiring visitors to experience iconic masterpieces that have been revitalized to capture attention and draw in larger audiences.
Sailor & The Dock is hosting an immersive art show, titled “Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition,” which has come to Oklahoma City for a limited time, showcasing the Italian master’s renowned artwork. The exhibition features life-size replicas of 33 of Michelangelo’s ceiling frescoes, art pieces that he painted onto wet plaster. While the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City is 60 feet high, the exhibition brings artwork to eye level at Sailor & The Dock.
Erin Duncan-O’Neill, assistant professor of art history, said that immersive art experiences have a positive effect on people's excitement for art.
"What I've observed is that it really stimulates a greater interest in art,” Duncan-O’Neill said. “People are inspired by these immersive environments and by the access to art.”
Just in time for the closing of the Sistine Chapel exhibition, the immersive Van Gogh experience will be making its way to Oklahoma City.
“If we can contextualize it, this is part of a larger trend in contemporary art for immersive spaces,” Duncan-O’Neill said. “By using new media like digital projection and virtual reality, like the Van Gogh exhibition, but also analog media, like the Sistine Chapel exhibition, you enter immersive spaces where the artists are offering totalizing experiences. The totalizing work of art, this immersive experience, is also a really old idea that's being reconceived in exciting new ways today.”
Duncan-O’Neill said due to its accessibility, the local art scene is an exciting space for art makers and art lovers.
“Seeing art in person has a lot of value,” Duncan-O’Neill said. “I think that access is more important than authenticity a lot of times.”
Eric Leong, senior producer of SEE Global Entertainment, which represents global touring exhibitions, said Michelangelo’s work endures because of its detail and portrayal of human emotion.
“The whole thinking behind the show is to make the art more accessible and to let people explore it at their own pace,” Leong said. “It's nice to have this really iconic artwork and something that’s pretty well known throughout the last 500 years come to your own backyard.”
Beside each display is a sign that describes Michelangelo’s vision and inspiration. In addition, visitors can scan the provided QR codes and listen to audio descriptions with headphones.
Leong said this immersive experience allows visitors to see Michelangelo’s exacting attention to detail, which can often go overlooked.
“If you were there in the actual chapel, the art is 60 feet above you,” Leong said. “You would not see the expression on this background person's face. You would not see the brushstrokes that you can now see because you’re feet or inches away from the painting.”
The one-to-one scale of the paintings provides a unique opportunity to view the art in a way that was previously never available.
“For something like the Sistine Chapel, this kind of exhibition makes a lot of sense because the conditions for viewing are challenging if you really go to the Sistine Chapel,” Duncan-O’Neill said. “It's a ceiling that’s really high up, and so, getting to see these monumental sibyls and the incredible way that Michelangelo painted these twisting bodies up close has a value that's distinct and different from the actual experience of being there.”
Emily Burns, associate professor of art history, said that thanks to the vibrant, local art scene and the balance between permanent collections and rotating exhibitions, there are many opportunities to engage with art in different ways
“You’re getting a different kind of access and connection with the representation,” Burns said. “It’s magical to imagine a space that pulls those paintings closer to ground level so that you can see them. These attractions are doing exciting things for art.”
Heather Elroy, a visitor of the exhibition, said she appreciates the large displays of the Sistine Chapel available for under $30.
"A lot of us around here just aren't going to have the money to go out and see the real one,” Elroy said. “I like that they brought that here.”
Burns said showcasing art in a nontraditional setting is a way to get the broader community involved in works they might otherwise not be interested in.
“I want art to be universal; I want it to be accessible to people, and I want people to feel connected to it,” Burns said. “Because it’s tied to an entertainment space more than a museum space, in some ways that can broaden the audience for art. And I also think that it's interesting that there are ways in which you gain a different kind of access to the art images.”
David Eischen, on-site event coordinating manager, said the exhibition provides art that needs to be seen in Oklahoma, which has been well-received.
“The art scene in Oklahoma has been thriving and it's important for people to be able to digest the artwork of Michelangelo,” Eischen said. “This (exhibition) gives people the opportunity to actually be there, enjoy the artwork and take it all in.”
Leong said that with depictions of “The Creation of Adam,” “The Last Judgment” and everything in between, a new perspective can be found admiring the paintings from the same distance that Michelangelo created them.
Michelangelo’s long-standing career went through changes that can be traced throughout the exhibition.
“The ceiling paintings are from the height of the Renaissance but the “Last Judgment” wall is from almost 30 years later and it's in a very different style,” Burns said. “It's interesting to think about Michelangelo circa 1500, and then after 1526 there's this unraveling of those aesthetic ideals from the Renaissance and so you can see an artist in two very different cultural conversations in the same room.”
The exhibition is open Thursday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. until Jan. 3. Visit Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition website to buy tickets.