Inside Klimt’s Masterpieces


Atélier des Lumières ("workshop of lights"), a new art venue that opened in Paris last weekend, housed in a cavernous former iron foundry on the trendy Rue Saint-Maur is an attempt to bring cutting-edge digital projection technology together with great art, creating an immersive experience-and, the hope is, an entirely new way of looking at paintings.

Visitors enter through the crowded ticket hall and find themselves in a vast room illuminated only by the faintest blue light. Suddenly, projectors scattered across the space flicker into action and the walls begin to stir; at once, you are surrounded by the architectural outlines of a grand Viennese salon, which in turn give way to a riot of color and figurative forms. Walking around, you are enveloped by the Austrian Symbolist painter Gustav Klimt's ravishing creations. Adele Bloch-Bauer, the subject of the artist's most famous portrait, towers above you over 30 feet tall, disintegrating into a shower of gold and silver pixels without warning; before you know it, the lovers of Klimt's masterpiece The Kiss (1907-08) are crowding out the vast space in a larger-than-life PDA. The confines of the room itself seem to shift as a blizzard of gold leaf whirls across the floor and ceiling.

As Michael Couzigou, the Atélier's director, explains, the workings behind it are anything but simple: Each of the 140 video projectors involved in the presentation has been specially adapted, and fitting the space to the correct standards took more than a year. Any future display along the same lines will require the old foundry to be completely reconfigured.

The project has its roots in a similar venture that its parent firm, the private arts organization Culturespaces, opened in a disused quarry in the South of France back in 2012. In the original space, known as Carrières des Lumières, exhibitions centered around Marc Chagall (complete with an exploration of his stained glass work and a spectacular coordinated soundtrack) and Hieronymus Bosch have proved enormous hits. Following its impressive success, the decision was taken to bring immersive art to the French capital.

"Klimt is a very well-known artist, and The Kiss is an iconic work of art. He abandoned classicism for something more personal, more introspective", notes Couzigou.

The notion of stepping through the frame of our favorite paintings and quite literally inhabiting them will always have a powerful imaginative pull. As Couzigou says, "It provokes a strong emotional response...Our priority is to open culture to everyone, and digital art allows this".