With the rise of immersive experiences across London and new projects launching in the capital literally every month it’s getting harder to surprise sophisticated spectators. We have already seen Van Gogh’s sunflowers coming to life on screen, tried to step on Monet’s lilies and interacted with Dalí’s clocks through 3D glasses.
David Hockney: Bigger & Closer (Not Smaller & Further Away) is setting the bar even higher by offering first mainstream and still-living artists to take on this challenging format. Hockney is still going strong and helped design the experience, despite turning 86 ten days ago.
The exhibition takes place in the heart of King’s Cross in London, at Lightroom, a new arts venue on Lewis Cubitt Square near Coal Drops Yard. The Thomas Heatherwick-designed development is part of the multi-billion pound King’s Cross regeneration project.
The venue is backed by investors including Sir Leonard Blavatnik and his Access Entertainment company, recent new owners of the Theatre Royal Haymarket, run by former BBC and Goldman Sachs executives. The space was originally announced as a new theatre, however, these plans have now been put back by four years, with the building staying as Lightroom until late 2026.
World’s most expensive living artist
British artist David Hockney remains the top-selling living artist, with sales of his works at public auction amounting to $132 million in 2020, according to the Hurun Global Art List released Monday. On November 15th, 2018, Hockney’s 1972 work Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) sold at Christie’s auction house in New York City for $90 million (£70 million), becoming the most expensive artwork by a living artist sold at auction. This broke the previous record, set by the 2013 sale of Jeff Koons’s Balloon Dog (Orange) for $58.4 million. Hockney held this record until 15 May 2019 when Koons reclaimed the honour selling his Rabbit for more than $91 million at Christie’s in New York.
A 360-degree documentary
The show took Hockney and his team three years to create and when you enter the venue you know why it could not be done any time sooner. Held in a single four-storey-high space, the 360-degree projections feature 60 years of the artist’s career through colossal moving images that appear on all four giant walls and the floor. Rest assured, Bigger & Closer is not just photos of paintings projected on a grand scale.
Hockney’s going cinematic
The six-chapter, 50-minute journey tunes in with a specially composed score by Nico Muhly, and commentary narrated by Hockney himself, in which he reveals his artistic process. This is an eloquent and educational lecture for a wide audience regardless of their age and background.
The audio is taken from many recorded sources over the years — documentaries and interviews — and, in some instances, you can hear Hockney’s young voice counterposed with that of the older man. You can stay for as many loops as you want and check out the view from the top balcony to fully observe the size of the room.
From Yorkshire to LA
The experience is divided into chapters that explore different aspects of Hockney’s oeuvre. Visitors can watch Hockney experimenting with perspective, using photography as a way of ‘drawing with a camera’, capturing the passing of time in his polaroid collages and the joy of spring on his iPad – a medium he has developed since buying his first iPad in 2010, and showing us why only paint can properly convey the hugeness of the Grand Canyon.
We join him on his audio-visual Wagner Drive, roaring up into the San Gabriel Mountains, and into the opera house by means of animated recreations of his stage designs. You can also see his portfolio for Vogue France and flip through the artist’s sketchbooks.
There’s of course a section about his iconic turquoise “Pools”. Hockney has had a lifelong fascination with water. “There were no paintings of Los Angeles. People then didn’t even know what it looked like,” Hockney explained. And the swimming pool quickly became his sign for California. The artist represents the immaterial: water and light, transparency, different kinds of liquidities which usually appear still on photographs. Unfortunately, the artist talks of his fascination with painting water, but never mentions the young male figures moving through it.
Immersive love of art
Hockney explains how he still loves painting and finds endless fascination in looking and there is something undeniably captivating and calming in this passion, dedication and desire to follow art with every turn of tech revolution. He is the artist forever pushing boundaries, fascinated by the intersection of new media and art which makes each visual projected at Lightroom a celebration of life and progress.
“The world is very, very beautiful if you look at it, but most people don’t look very much. They scan the ground in front of them so they can walk, they don’t really look at things incredibly well, with an intensity. I do,” resumes Hockney. With the world full of unnecessary complications such strong and positive statements somehow make you feel right about the future and appreciate the exhibition even more.
David Hockney: Bigger & Closer (not smaller & further away) is at Lightroom until 3 December 2023. Tickets and more information can be found here.
Image credits: © David Hockney and Justin Sutcliffe