I was a reporter on assignment covering the opening of the Guggenheim Hermitage Museum, newly housed in The Venetian, a Las Vegas hotel/casino in 2002. At a press conference, the owner of the resort, the late mogul Sheldon Adelson proclaim, “Not even Bugsy Siegel would have thought of this!” Siegel was the mobster who developed the Vegas strip.

Now, the proliferation of immersive art shows prompts me to say, “Not even Sheldon Adelson would have thought of this! The magnate who died in January was great at making money, and immersive shows are proving to be blockbusters.

According to 303 Magazine, immersive shows in Denver, alone, “exploded in popularity over the last year.”

Blowing art up

This is not necessarily a good thing. When a macroscopic blow-up of a painting is splashed over walls, floors, and ceilings, inviting people to step into the imagery, they’re liable to forget that painting can be powerful without special effects. I’m thinking of the immersive display called “Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition” that showed in an old empty building in Charlotte, NC last month.

Lost in supersized pictures of the Creation story is any awareness that Michelangelo painting the whole story on a 65-foot high vaulted ceiling in perfect proportion lying on his back looking upward for four years.

As the great German poet Goethe said, “Until you’ve seen the Sistine Chapel, you can have no adequate conception of what man is capable of accomplishing.”

Then there’s “Beyond Monet,” an immersive show of 40,000 paintings, including the Water Lilies series, projected all over 50,000 square feet of Metro Toronto Convention. Yahoo News says it’s the biggest immersive show yet, all to the tune of originally composed music in surround sound.

The only things missing are cavorting nymphs.

Say what?

Yahoo quotes Gilles Paquin, CEO of the production company Paquin Entertainment Group saying that the “Beyond Monet” show “elevated artwork to the next level.” Whoa! Didn’t Monet already do that when he painted his water lilies in a continuous image that reaches around a room to surround and envelop viewers?

As Monet wrote about picturing his garden to his friend and biographer Gustave Geffroy, he sought “to produce the illusion of an endless whole, a wave without horizon and without shore.” See? Monet already gave the world an immersive display and without gimmickry.

In excess

While an immersive Monet show is clearly excessive, you might say that Adelson’s Guggenheim Heritage Museum, which ultimately failed, suffered from not being excessive enough. The way I saw the show, the glitz-blitzed Venetian hotel/casino housing the museum hurt all 45 easel paintings by early moderns like Picasso, Cezanne, and Van Gogh.

That’s because passage to the museum included a grand corridor filled with shiny fake marble pillars and shiny fake marble statuary beneath a vaulted ceiling of shiny fake, gold leaf-framed frescoes.

By the time you get to the Hermitage collection of easel paintings, they look little and lackluster.

Moral of this story. Keep art out of Vegas. Also, if art shows keep turning immersive with digital displays, they will sink actual size paintings into oblivion.