Originally published on Oct. 9, 2020

In 2017 came Winterlights, the wildly popular outdoor Christmas lights extravaganza; in 2019, came Harvest, the fall outdoors experience complete with pumpkin gardens and spiced cider. In June 2021, the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields will have another chance to ensnare new patrons into its increasingly Instagrammable museum lair: The Lume.

The multi-sensory, immersive exhibit, to be installed by the Australian company Grande Experiences, will occupy the nearly 30,000 square feet of the museum’s fourth floor as a permanent exhibition. In that space, which constitutes the largest exhibit in the museum’s 137-year history, approximately 150 cutting-edge digital projectors will drench the entire space in displays of animated art. 

The exhibition will set its high-wattage cinematic visuals to classical music scores and will employ time-released aromas. Along with a 45-minute main feature, and three five-minute features, there will be extensive information about the particular subject and/or artist to be highlighted. 

“This new way of experiencing art will be truly multisensory; artworks will come alive through the use of cutting edge projection, technology, music, food, and even cocktails,” said Newfields Director and CEO Charles Venable at the Wednesday press conference that unveiled The Lume to the public.

The inaugural, year-long exhibit in The Lume will showcase the digitized works of Vincent van Gogh. It will feature nearly 3,000 kinetic images illuminating all of the interior surfaces of the museum’s fourth floor so patrons will feel like they’re walking through the Dutch master’s most memorable paintings.

According to Venable, the exhibition —  which was kickstarted by a nearly $7 million Lilly Endowment grant — is geared towards generating broader, more diverse audiences. 

“Traditional art exhibitions are fairly static in most people's minds,” Venable said. “A lot of people say, well, I don't know enough; I never took an art history class in college, and therefore that's not where I'm going to go on my Saturday with my kids or my date. I've been trying to figure out how to break that barrier so that people are willing to at least once come to a place like this.”

There will still be a place for contemporary art despite the coming transformation of the fourth floor, said Venable. That floor, which used to house contemporary art, is now closed for renovation. While the mostly static art on that floor was not generating the kind of attendance that the museum wanted to see, he said that there will still be space for contemporary artists at Newfields. The museum will also continue to host temporary exhibitions of contemporary art.

“We will be moving that 10,000 square feet of contemporary art down to the main floor where we think more people will see it,” he said. 

Assistant Curator of Contemporary art Michael Vetter will be in charge of this process, Venable said. “He also wants to disperse some of our great masterpieces and contemporary art into other galleries that have older art in them so you can make the older art go and dialogue with the new." 

There will eventually be an opportunity for contemporary digital artists to showcase their work in The Lume —  but not at the outset, Venable explained. After the Van Gogh exhibit opens at The Lume, a show on Michaelangelo and the Renaissance will likely follow, in accordance with audience taste and knowledge.

“Eventually, after we build that audience and people like coming here [...], we can push that envelope on what they will take a chance on, and come to see a contemporary art installation and work by people that they don't know the name of because they said, ‘Well, last year was good,’” said Venable.

Attracting new audiences is intrinsic to Newfields’ strategic plan which counts community outreach and financial viability among its goals.

Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications of Visit Indy, Chris Gahl, is bullish on The Lume and is banking on it to help Indy’s tourism recover as COVID-19 wains, assuming it wains.

“Our tourism recovery research shows visitors racing back in the second quarter of 2021,” he said during the Wednesday press conference. “So as we turn the corner, there will be The Lume making its national premiere at Newfields. in Indianapolis, having an exhibition of this caliber opening in June of 2021 will unquestionably help Indy recover faster than other major cities, positioning Indy as the place to come explore.”

As Venable indicated in late June at a Virtual State of Arts and Culture event organized by the Indianapolis Arts Council, a lot is on the line currenty at Newfields — along with the entire Indianapolis nonprofit arts industry —  because of ticket cancellations and associated losses brought on by COVID-19.

“We're hoping things get better, and we don't have a rebound of higher caseloads of the virus in the fall,” he said during that late June event.  

At the moment, as of Oct. 7, tickets must be reserved in advance at Newfields, and crowd sizes are limited to 25% of capacity.

Whether the future course of the novel coronavirus will allow Newfields and other arts organizations in the Circle City to increase their audience sizes, and thus their earnings, is the big question that no one knows the answer to at this point.

Editor's note: This article was revised Oct. 9 to fill in detail about several aspects of the exhibit as well as funding. 

Managing Editor

Having lived and worked in Indy on and off since 1977, and currently living in Carmel, I've seen the city change a great deal. I love covering the arts in all its forms, and the places where the arts and broader cultural issues intersect.