When you step into The Lume, billed as Melbourne’s new permanent digital art gallery and Australia’s first permanent digital art gallery, the sheer scale of the exhibit makes you lose your mind.
When Age visited for an exclusive preview, the team rehearsed their exhibition, simply titled Van Gogh, which opens Monday.
Hidden spotlights projected a seemingly endless field of sunflowers onto the 3,000 square meters of white carpet and 11 meters of cavernous space walls, carved into the last two bays of the South Wharf Convention and Exhibition Center.
Suddenly the intense yellow was replaced by a brooding blue, as the artist’s starry night swirled, brushstrokes the size of your arm. Speakers played classic hits while a voiceover recounted the life of this unique artist.
As a show, it’s likely to be a crowd-pleaser when it opens – even as it sends scathing art aficionados into stroke attacks over freedoms taken with iconic works.
But Bruce Peterson, owner and founder of the company behind The Lume, has ambitions beyond dropping a few jaws.
“What we’ve done here is create Australia’s first digital art gallery, the first in the southern hemisphere,” he says.
They will feature exhibitions produced in their studios in Port Melbourne, London and Rome: but they also commission emerging digital artists in this growing field. Peterson wants to take them on the usual canvas (if they’re lucky) of a wall in a small gallery and drop them on the digital art equivalent of the Sistine Chapel.
Peterson calls in an assistant to demonstrate. Suddenly the ground turns into a dizzying, choppy sea. Then the walls vibrate with impenetrable, computer-generated forms, plunging us into the metaverse.
We are only scratching the surface of what is possible at the moment.
Bruce Peterson, Le Lume
“Young, emerging digital artists don’t really have a platform to display a lot of their great work,” he says. “They’ve got TV commercials or the game industry, but it’s often just a little 2D area that doesn’t really do them justice – where we’re going to have this great canvas for them.”
They aim to show contemporary artists in the form of “short films” after the main show and in special one-night exhibitions.
They are also working with the Australian National Museum on a great Indigenous experience featuring hundreds of artists, co-curated by the museum’s senior Indigenous curator, Margo Neale.
He imagines animating contemporary dance shows, interacting in real time with a video projection surrounding them.
“We’re only scratching the surface of what’s possible at the moment,” he says.
For 15 years, cities from Mexico to Denver to Adelaide have hosted Peterson’s exhibits and “experiences”. But six years ago, he decided he wanted to go one step further: to triple the size of their traveling shows in a permanent space.
The Lume uses 143 high-definition and powerful projectors: their traveling shows use 30. It has 65. kilometers electrical and data wiring, and floors plus walls equate to 4,400 square meters of projection area.
Which begs the question: is bigger better? If you are presenting the greatest art in the world, why do you have to do it on three floors?
Peterson tells a story in response. He took his children to the great galleries of Italy and France, and found that “five minutes after the start there was a knock on the hip pocket and they were like ‘Let’s go get some ice cream, that’s boring. ‘.
“I asked them why is it boring, are we in the middle of art, culture and history?” And they just said okay, nothing is moving. And my daughter said, “It would be nice if there was music, daddy.” And that was my “a-ha” moment because I saw the change that was coming with this generation.
“They value the real material object less, they value the experience more than anything. If we integrate as many human senses as possible at the same time: vision, audio, aroma, your kinesthetic sense of space, and if you make them all work together, you have an amplified and often emotional result.
“It affects people emotionally, which is a very difficult thing to do in two-dimensional galleries.”
Basically, he wants a child’s first artistic experience to be “a joyous experience.”
“I think you’re a better human and a better person when you have art and culture in your life,” he says. “But we have to have people engaged.”
The Lume opens Monday, November 1 with tickets on sale here.
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