When I entered the exhibition at Artechouse last month, I needed a minute to adjust to the darkness of the immersive experience. When I left after taking in the narcotic dreaminess of Julius Horsthuis’s “Fractal Worlds,” I needed a moment to adjust my definition of a museum.
Artechouse doesn’t collect art, so it’s not a museum in that sense. It doesn’t sell the work it displays, so it’s not a typical gallery. But the cavernous space on Maryland Avenue SW near the edge of L’Enfant Plaza is focused on presenting digital art and — like many museums — it wants to help audiences learn about and appreciate it.
The bar inside the exhibition space suggests Artechouse wants its guests to have fun, too. It brings people to art by making the art into a party.
“This isn’t about art you can buy and take home. You make the experience. It’s about how you react to it, how you connect to it,” founder and art director Sandro Kereselidze said.
Kereselidze and partner Tatiana Pastukhova opened Artechouse last year after a seven-year run as hosts of Art Soiree, a program that presented themed parties featuring art and music. They expanded to Albuquerque in May, and they have plans to open in Miami in November and New York in 2019.
Kereselidze works with artists to create immersive solo exhibitions that encourage visitors to see and experience the work from different perspectives. “Fractal Worlds,” for example, featured a giant 270-degree screen that invited guests to linger on beanbag chairs for the 23-minute loop of computer-generated imagery. Another room depicted images screened on an inverted dome, and a third allowed guests to disperse clouds to reveal the world underneath. Virtual reality headsets offered another way to experience Horsthuis’s otherworldly places.
“This is contemporary art for the 21st century, technology is the medium of the 21st century,” Kereselidze said. “There are incredible institutions that showcase what has already been created. They are about preserving. We are about creating.”
“New Nature,” which opened Friday and continues through Jan. 13, takes the interactive technology to a new level, Pastukhova explained. The work by Mateusz “Marpi” Marcinowski includes an immersive projection in the main gallery that will use sensors to scan visitors and put that data into the piece. Another gallery allows visitors to play with the virtual beings that crawl on LED trees, while another will host a floor projection.
“The artist starts it and then we all contribute to it as it endures,” Pastukhova said, noting that the visuals will be different as the work is viewed.
Artechouse’s “the future is now” vibe extends to its after-hours club setting, which turns every night into opening night. The space welcomes visitors of all ages from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
In the evening it invites the 21-and-older crowd to enjoy the art and bar. Using the Artechouse app, visitors can experience augmented reality cocktails created for the exhibition. “It’s all part of an immersive experience, a full experience,” Kereselidze said.
Artechouse, 1238 Maryland Ave. SW. usa.artechouse.com.