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Lightroom: up close and personal

The latest high-profile immersive art show in London was designed by artist David Hockney. It launches a new space called Lightroom which promises something radically different, as Magali Robathan reports

Hockney has spent his career working in new mediums, from Polaroids to iPads and now projected immersion photo by Justin Sutcliffe

David Hockney has launched a new projection-led art show in London’s Kings Cross, taking visitors on a journey through his art and life.

Immersive art shows have become hugely popular over the past few years, with high profile touring exhibitions celebrating the likes of Van Gogh, Frida Kahlo and Gustav Klimt. This one – which is the launch show for new artist-led, interactive art space Lightroom – is different because the artist is still alive and the exhibition was actually designed by him.

Talking to The New York Times about the trend for immersive arts shows, Hockney said: “They’re dead. I’m a living artist, so I’ve come in and actually done things.”

Hockney’s exhibition treats the four-storey Lightroom venue as a backdrop for projections of his art onto the walls and at times the floor, featuring some of his most famous artworks, as well as lesser-known pieces. The projections and documentary films are accompanied by commentary by Hockney, in which he explains his process and approach to art and by soaring music written specially for the show by American contemporary classical composer Nico Muhly.

Mystery Shopper
Magali Robathan pays a visit to David Hockney Bigger & Closer (not smaller & further away)

I visited on a Tuesday afternoon a couple of months after the exhibition launched and it was very busy. The 50 minute-long film is on a loop, meaning you can join at any time, and visitors arrive and leave throughout. The atmosphere is very relaxed, with small children wandering around, people standing, sitting and lying back on the floor – I found watching visitors’ reactions almost as interesting as the show itself.

The film is divided into six ‘chapters,’ travelling through Hockney’s life from LA to Yorkshire, and finishing with paintings of his present day home in Normandy, France. For me, the section about his early life and his gleeful reaction to Los Angeles were the most exciting, with the huge projections of his swimming pool paintings working particularly well. There’s also a brilliant section of film with Hockney driving through the Santa Monica hills playing a soundtrack of Wagner with the bends in the road carefully timed to match the music. It’s thrilling and feels as though you’re in the car with him.

Some of the reviews of the exhibition have been a bit sniffy, with critics arguing that it lacks passion and is not ‘real art’.

For me that misses the point – of course it’s a different experience to viewing Hockney’s paintings in real life, but I found it visually spectacular and his commentary made it enlightening and surprisingly moving.

Something about hearing the artist talk about his life, while watching his art through the years play out in such an immersive setting really stayed with me, and I found myself resolving to look at the world more closely, and appreciate the beauty all around.

"I found it visually spectacular and his commentary made it enlightening and surprisingly moving"
photo by Justin Sutcliffe
Hockney’s artworks are projected onto the walls, and at times the floor / photo by Justin Sutcliffe
“The projections of his swimming pool paintings work particularly well” / photo © David Hockney
Fast facts

• David Hockney Bigger & Closer (not Smaller and Further Away) runs from 22 February to 1 October 2023

• The exhibition takes place at the newly-launched Lightroom in Lewis Cubitt Square, London, N1C 4DY

• Lightroom is a joint venture between London Theatre Company and design studio and production company 59 Productions

• Lightroom was designed by architects Haworth Tompkins, who envisioned the venue as a sister space to the recently opened Bridge Theatre in London’s Southwark

• The show was created by David Hockney & Lightroom and designed by 59 Productions

• Tickets are from £25 for adults and from £15 for students • Dwell time is 50 minutes

David Hockney with the model box for August 2021 Landscape with Shadows which was originally composed on 12 iPads. Production and design of the exhibition is by Mark Grimmer / © David Hockney. Photo credit: Mark Grimmer
About Lightroom London

Launched in February 2023, new interactive art space Lightroom promises to offer ‘spectacular artist-led shows”. It’s a joint venture between London Theatre Company and design studio and production company 59 Productions, backed by a group of investors led by Sir Leonard Blavatnik who is represented by Danny Cohen, president of Access Entertainment; and Michael Sherwood, former co-CEO of Goldman Sachs International. 

Future shows haven’t yet been announced, but the operators promise the Hockney show will be the first in “a repertoire of original shows, made with leading artists and innovators.”

Lightroom at King’s Cross, London

Originally published in Attractions Management 2023 issue 2
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