A Massive Digital Gallery Is Coming To Newfields

While THE LUME will open with Van Gogh paintings, Newfields plans to apply the technology to other kinds of art in future years.

Newfields aims to make a big impression. It took more than a year to transform the entire fourth floor (nearly 30,000 square feet) into THE LUME—the largest exhibit space in the museum’s 137-year history, and the first permanent multisensory digital art gallery in the U.S. While others have experimented with smaller, short-term shows, Newfields is the first to commit to something of this size and duration.

More than 258 million pixels of imagery flood the new gallery—floor to ceiling—from 150 high-definition projectors, resulting in a surreal 3-D dreamscape where the paintings come to life with cinematic effects.

THE LUME is the work of Australian tech company Grande Experiences, which has been creating multimedia art, nature, and science exhibits around the world for the past 15 years. A grant from the Lilly Endowment covered the estimated $7 million bill, and almost a third of that amount was dedicated to technology expenses.

The inaugural show will spotlight the work of Vincent van Gogh. Famous for their bright colors and thick globs of paint, the postimpressionist paintings are ideal for up-close exploration in THE LUME’s exaggerated realm.

The immersive experience is not just visual, but designed to stimulate all five senses. Classical music harmonizes with the enlarged images, and coordinating aromas fill the air—the fresh scent of sunflowers infuses a room dedicated to Van Gogh’s Sunflowers painting, for example. A cafe at the exhibit’s center pairs the art with food and drinks to satisfy the sense of taste.

While the new exhibit is sure to be a major attraction, some patrons have complained on social media about the displacement of the Contemporary Gallery objects that once occupied the floor. According to Jonathan Berger, deputy director for marketing and external affairs at Newfields, some of those pieces have been integrated into other galleries within the museum. The new space is “meant to breathe life into the museum, not take away from what it already gives,” he says. 

Although THE LUME was a passion project for Newfields’s former president Charles Venable, who resigned under pressure after a racial misstep over the winter, many at the museum have been working on its development for the past five years, including Berger and interim president Jerry Wise. Berger believes THE LUME offers a format that will appeal to a diverse audience, especially those who don’t normally frequent art museums. 

After being engulfed in the colors and textures brought to you on the big screens, you can compare the high-tech versions with one of Van Gogh’s originals. The iconic Landscape at Saint Remy, Enclosed Field with Peasant, a painting owned by Newfields, bids you adieu in THE LUME’s final gallery, bridging the divide between post-impressionism and digital art.