Immersive Klimt Revolution
A visit to the new Lighthouse Immersive Exhibit
TORONTO | WORDS BY GEORGIA GARDNER | LIGHTHOUSE IMMERSIVE - Issue 7
Immersive Klimt Revolution
Immersive Klimt Revolution (IKR) is the latest production from Lighthouse Immersive, the producers that brought audiences Immersive Van Gogh, the 600,000 cubic feet projection that sold over 2.5 million tickets in North America. The exhibit promises a vibrant, electrifying celebration of the life and legacy of Gustav Klimt.
Klimt, the Austrian Symbolist painter, has been most connected to the artistic movement Art Nouveau—a gothic style, moving the European art world towards unconventional, organic linear shapes, and psychedelic experimental effects. As black curtains opened and I entered the exhibition, I realized that IKR does now what Art Nouveau did in the 1900s: changing, transcending and transforming traditional ideas of what art
should be, by using this new technology–focused art medium that IKR is, and the public display of eroticism. IKR is anything but predictable, it’s full of contradictions, both whimsical and challenging.
The artworks of Egon Schiele are celebrated alongside Klimt in this production. In 1907, the pair worked closely, as Klimt was Schiele’s mentor. They have been referred to in history as “the masters of sex and death,” a profound and controversial reputation I found was accurately exuberated in this collaboration. IKR sees Klimt and Schiele’s work re-imagined, floating through an immersive experience filled with desperation, sensuality, and vibrant, jewel-coloured tones. In this exhibit, I found Schiele and Klimt a chilling and mesmerizing pair, taking after each other stylistically to depict their fascination with female bodies. These women are portrayed as the subject of lust, but also lonely, placid, and dreamlike in a sequence of expressionless faces—as mermaids, as children, and as lovers. As the show opens with an animated inferno blazing into dark wax, a female nude amongst nature is revealed in a serene ambiance, furnished with lions and other creatures amongst the foliage. The rest of the show evolves in an unpredictable manner, emotive and transgressive.
IKR felt to me like a spontaneous step forward for Lighthouse Immersive, whose inaugural production was palatable for a wide range of audiences of various ages and expertise. Upon entering the exhibit, I noted that IKR does not seem to be targeted for everyone given the mature subject matter, but one could even say it does not have any pretence or obligation to be. IKR appears to outlaw limitations or expectations, to stun, and shock. The exhibition experience is a high-drama passage of time from the eyes of these two complicated art legends, walking you through their shared history and artistic inspiration. Visitors take a tour through the streets of Imperial Vienna, to Greek mythology, Egyptian scenes, and to Klimt’s Japanese influence. IKR is a melting pot of time periods, a juxtaposition of dreamy, ethereal scenes with monstrous geometric shapes.
Immersive Klimt has had time to prepare safety measures, being that it takes place in the same location as Immersive Van Gogh which, at one point, was the only art exhibit open in Toronto at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. As One Yonge Street and the exhibition space was previously a printing press for the Toronto Star, the large dark space allows for a blank canvas, perfect for visitors to forget where they are and get lost in the art. Mirrors were built on pillars to reflect images from all angles for a fully immersed experience, and a platform in the centre of the space gives a higher vantage point to view the show. I noted that all of the safety features thought out for Immersive Van Gogh are still in place, such as the social distancing circles on the floor and the necessity of wearing a mask—that safety was a top priority made for a more comfortable experience.
As with Immersive Van Gogh, visitors will see their favourite artworks from Klimt’s ‘golden age’. The Kiss, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, and Death and Life all shimmer and dazzle beside nude self portraits and Austrian landscapes by Schiele. In IKR, these images are adapted, overlaid with depth and movement, like never seen before. For example, arguably Klimt’s most famous gold leaf, The Kiss, is paired in the same image frame as a couple who are nude, and dance together abstractly. They are covered in gold dust, complimenting Klimt’s most iconic work, adding a modern cinematic element.
Immersive Klimt Revolution
The female form was a large influence for both Klimt and Schiele, most often tranquil and languishing amidst chaotic landscapes. Represented here, they are naked and pale with long hair, casually displayed, decorated with flowers and feathers in rich red, gold, and blue tones. The contentious relationship both artists had with women brings another layer of depth to this exhibit. Much of their history with women is shrouded with mystery, and for Schiele, even violence and prosecution. IKR asks us to examine problematic figures in history. Visitors are given the opportunity to address their own views on separating the art from the artist, and their tortured adoration of women.
The production manages to escape confinement to a particular genre. For example, set to a theatrical string orchestration—wherein composer Luca Longobardi’s “Corale 10” leads into a modified excerpt from Arnold Schönberg’s Verklärte Nacht—Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze depicts symbols of sickness and death in the form of mythical Greek monsters. A scene such as this, if handled clumsily, could land on the side of the too morbid and serious. However, it is balanced with enough fantasy and imagery that it remains exciting, entertaining, and luminous. Another example of how IKR avoids genre limitations is the way in which Schiele’s self-portraits balance both evocative and pleasant aesthetics: his works appear blue, puppet-like, hollow and shrunken against muddy backgrounds, yet fully entrancing. IKR also has elements of magical realism. The immersive experience includes eyes that pop up and disappear again. The images in the exhibition move from rapid dramatic progressions to calm, slower serenity. The use of eyes in this setting is personified, with a mind of its own, holding the attention of the viewer. As a viewer, the art watches you back. Nobody and nothing in IKR is excluded from a watchful gaze.
In the same way that IKR travels through time periods, it also travels through themes. In particular, elements of the natural world are used as a tool to bounce the pace of the show in-and-out of orderly procession. An example of this is the juxtaposition of a wildfire burning aristocratic figureheads, with the light of a chandelier in an opulent theatre hall. Nature is consistently used as an expressive force, with humans attempting to control it but never succeeding. IKR balances entertainment with deliberation, and thoughtful commentary on the political agenda of the era. Figures masquerade hauntingly, and assorted yellow hieroglyphics are mixed with features of circular, colourful, and geometric images. From the progression of violins into futuristic club techno, to a celebration of the natural world contrasted with psychedelic symbolism, Immersive Klimt Revolution delivers a cinematic experience like no other.
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