If you are looking for an experience that will “knock your socks off”, do consider attending one of three immersive art exhibitions in France where you are surrounded by famous works of art which are projected onto gigantic walls and choreographed to classical and modern music.
These digital art shows take place at L’Atelier des Lumières in Paris, Les Carrières des Lumières in Les Baux-de-Provence, and Les Bassins des Lumières in Bordeaux. You’ll see masterpieces by famous artists such as Picasso, Van Gogh, Klimt, or Cezanne in ways that you never imagined.
Table of contents
- 3 Unique Venues
- What Is An Immersive Art Experience?
- Culturespaces Continues To Innovate
- Video Compilation Of All 3 Immersive Experiences
- 1. Atelier des Lumières (Paris)
- 2. Carrières des Lumières (Les Baux-de-Provence)
- 3. Bassins des Lumières (Bordeaux)
- My Favourite Immersive Art Experience In France
Immersive Art Exhibitions In Paris, Les Baux, And Bordeaux
3 Unique Venues
The “Lumières” exhibitions in Paris, Les Baux, and Bordeaux are more than just sound and light shows (son et lumières). While the content (the digital presentations of the artist’s work) is dazzling, it’s the venue where the exhibition takes place that makes the entire experience unique. It’s better and quite different than being in an art gallery as innovative designs and technology are incorporated into the presentation.
Each location is different. In Paris, you’re in a foundry that once produced metal castings. In Les Baux, you’re in a limestone quarry, and in Bordeaux, you’re in a former submarine base.
During your visit, there are usually 2-4 “presentations” showcasing the work of classical and contemporary or modern artists. The visit lasts about 1-1.5 hours. The shows run continuously, so it doesn’t matter when you enter. Even if each location is promoting the same artist (ie. Van Gogh, Monet, Klimt, etc.), the experiences are immensely different thanks to the unique venues that they are in.
What Is An Immersive Art Experience?
There’s a big difference experiencing an immersive art exhibition compared to visiting a traditional museum or art gallery. At an art gallery, the experience is passive. You stand there and stare at a painting or piece of art.
In an immersive experience you see hundreds of paintings projected on massive walls all around you—-360 degrees—and many are shown at the same time. The images move, up and down, left and right, and in and out and this multi-projection digital presentation draws you into the art which is choreographed to music. Your senses come alive as you walk around the venue, see the images from all angles, and feel the emotions that the music has evoked in you. You are interacting with the art.
Thanks to technology and the collaboration of computer animators, artists, engineers, architects, and designers, famous works of art are now made more accessible to the masses as adults and children alike are enjoying these immersive art installations. No more “shushing” where you have to be quiet, like in a museum. These are places to have fun.
Culturespaces Continues To Innovate
Culturespaces is the organization that manages the immersive exhibitions at Atelier des Lumières, Carrières des Lumières, and Les Bassins des Lumières and have done an outstanding job of being innovative, with new shows added approximately every 6-9 months.
Take advantage of the free IOS and Android apps that can give you commentary and information about current exhibitions in France and other exhibitions run by Culturespaces throughout the world. They also have immersive exhibitions in New York, Dortmund (Germany), Amsterdam, Seoul and Jeju (South Korea), and Dubai.
Video Compilation Of All 3 Immersive Experiences
Check out this short video showing what the 3 immersive experiences in France are like at each of the venues (just click on the image):
1. Atelier des Lumières (Paris)
(a) What Does “Atelier des Lumières” Mean?
“Atelier des Lumières” means “workshop of lights” and this digital art center is the first of its kind in Paris with music and digital images of art by renowned painters and artists.
(b) Where Is Atelier des Lumières Located?
It is located in a former foundry, Chemin-Vert, that originally opened in 1935, to manufacture cast iron parts for naval and railway companies. The family-run business was in operation for four generations but closed in 1929. While the smelting plant was still able to produce tools until 2000, it wasn’t until 2013 that Culturespaces got involved to rent out the facility to create a digital arts centre.
(c) The Immersive Experience In Paris
The digital art experience in Paris is different compared to the sound and light shows in Les Baux. The area covers 3300 square meters and the walls are high (10 meters high). There is an upper level and a side room to see the images from different angles and to view the other shows. They use 140 video projectors and an enhanced immersive sound system basically creating a 3D effect (this is spatial sound and it’s better than surround sound).
During my first visit, many, many people sat on the floor in the middle of the facility, so you had to be careful where you walked. It wasn’t as bad the second time I went.
(d) Paris Immersive Art Exhibitions I’ve Attended
I went to the Atelier’s first exhibition in 2018. It featured:
- Gustav Klimt
- Hundertwasser in the Wake of the Vienna Secession
- Colours X Colours
In 2022, I went back and the work of Paul Cezanne was the main attraction. There was also a presentation of colourful paintings by Wassily (sometimes written as Vassily) Kandinsky (1866–1944). He is often considered the father of abstract art and his paintings remind me of the work of Joan Miró and Victor Vasarely.
In addition to the paintings by known artists, there was also a showing of a digital film called “Recording Entropia” that I had seen in Bordeaux. Originally produced for virtual reality, the art installation was turned into an immersive exhibition where you see objects in (outer?) space, changing form. Kind of like transformers, but in water or outer space. It was very creatively done.
(e) Future Shows At Atelier des Lumières (2023-2024)
From now until January 7, 2024, there will be shows highlighting the art of Marc Chagall (1887–1985) during his time in Paris and New York.
Atelier des Lumières
Location: 8 rue Saint Maur in the 11th arrondissement
Open: Monday to Thursday from 10 am to 6 pm; Fridays and Saturdays 10 am until 10 pm; and Sundays 10 am until 7pmCost: 16 Euros (save 2 € by booking online) (as of 2023)
Tickets: To get tickets, it is best to book them online. The website shows the number of tickets available each day.
2. Carrières des Lumières (Les Baux-de-Provence)
(a) What Does “Carrières des Lumières” Mean?
“Carrières des Lumières” means “Quarries of light” and the venue for the immersive sound and light shows is in fact a former limestone quarry (“carrière”).
In 1800 there was a demand for stone and Les Baux had it. Thus began the beginning of the creation of quarries such as Les Grands Fonds, which is now Les Carrières des Lumières. The quarry closed in 1935 and a few years later famous filmmaker Jean Cocteau used the facility for one of his films, “The Testament Of Orpheus”.
It wasn’t until 1977 that the space was finally used for sound and light shows. In 2012, Culturespaces began to manage the quarry and began hosting immersive art and music exhibitions.
(b) Where Is Carrières de Lumières Located?
In the heart of Provence, just 38 kilometres south of Avignon is Château des Baux-de-Provence, renowned for the remains of the 10th-century fortress. Just around the corner (800 meters) is Carrières des Lumières.
(c) The Immersive Experience In Les Baux-de-Provence
When you enter the gigantic quarry, you are presented with enormous walls of limestone and you are free to wander throughout the complex or sit on the side and enjoy the entertainment.
The digital art exhibitions are projected onto the walls while music is coordinated with the displays.
(d) Les Baux Immersive Art Exhibitions I’ve Attended
In 2017, I saw “The Fantastic and Wonderful World of Bosch, Brueghel, Arcimboldo”. I wasn’t familiar with the work of these artists so I wasn’t as “awed” as on my second and third visits in 2018 and 2019.
During my second visit, I saw art by Picasso and other Spanish painters such as Goya and Sorolla as well as art from the late 1960s and early 1970s. The music from the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Jimmy Hendrix that went with “Flower Power and Pop Culture” was really more to my liking. The exhibition used wildly vivid colours and many familiar tunes.
My third visit to Les Carrières was in 2019 and it was the best. “Van Gogh, La Nuit Étoilée” (Van Gogh, Starry Night) was the presentation and it was my favourite, certainly because I was most familiar with his art. The iconic images of Van Gogh’s Les Tournesols (Sunflowers, 1888), Nuit étoilée (Starry Night, 1889), and his self-portrait were breathtaking.
I also really liked the music played during the Van Gogh exhibition. It was by Vivaldi (Four Seasons), Janis Joplin, Nina Simone, and Miles Davis. The second part of the exhibition was combined with “Dreamed Japan, Images of the Floating World”, filled with images of samurai warriors and geishas. It was accompanied by music by Debussy. This particular show was also shown at Paris’ Atelier des Lumières.
If you are visiting Les Baux in the summer, you’ll enjoy the cool temperatures inside. Usually, it is a refreshing 14-16 degrees Celsius, so bring a sweater.
(e) Future Shows At Carrières des Lumières (2023-2024)
From now until January 2024, there will be shows highlighting the art of Vermeer, Van Gogh, and Mondrian.
Carrières des Lumières
Location: Route de Maillane 13520 Les Baux-de-Provence
- January, November, and December: 10-6 pm
- Late February and March: 9:30-6 pm
- April, May, June, September, and October: 9:30-7 pm
- July, August: 9-7:30 pm
Cost: 14.5 Euros (as of 2023)
Note: You can get a combined ticket to visit Les Carrières des Lumières and Chateau des Baux de Provence for a combined rate (18E)
3. Bassins des Lumières (Bordeaux)
(a) What Does “Bassins des Lumières” Mean?
“Bassins des Lumières” means “Pools of Light”. There are many pools of water, as it is (or was) a submarine base. The digital images projected on the walls, ceiling, and the cistern create beautiful reflections in the water and provide a truly immersive sound and light show.
(b) Where Is Bassins des Lumières Located?
The digital exhibition venue in Bordeaux has quite a history. The presentations take place in a former submarine base from World War II. In June 1940, Bordeaux was occupied by German troops. The Axis forces (Germany, Italy, and Japan) wanted more “pens” to protect their submarines. (A submarine in German is “Unterseeboot” and is referred to as a “u-boat”) . Construction of the “U-boat-bunkers” began in September 1941 and the work was done by 6500 persons—French, Italian, Belgium, and Dutch workers. 1/3 were Spanish prisoners.
It took 19 months just to pour the concrete which was needed to create the base and 11 submarine docks. The roof alone had 9 meters of concrete and the Bordeaux submarine bunker ultimately covered 42,000 square meters. It was fully operational in May 1943 but was only in use until August 26, 1944. Bordeaux was liberated two days later.
In 2018, Culturespaces took over four of the bunker’s docks and began renovating it to become Les Bassins des Lumières— Sous-Marine (meaning “underwater”). It opened in April 2020 with digital art exhibitions of the work of Gustav Klimt, Paul Klee, and Ocean Data.
(c) The Immersive Experience In Bordeaux
Images are projected on the walls and ceiling of this naval base and reflected off the pools of water that are located throughout the complex.
There were only a few direction signs which were illuminated on the ground. They directed you to the exit and areas that had additional, shorter presentations. The words were in French:
- La Citerne (cistern or tank)
- Le Cube (special exhibition space where new digital art is presented)
- Les Gradins (bleachers)
- L’Écluse (lock-the type to control water)
Inside “Le cube” and the “La Citerne”, there are additional presentations.
(d) Les Bassins Immersive Art Exhibitions I’ve Attended
When I visited, I was transported to Venice in the “Venise La Sérénissime” exhibition with artwork done by various Italian painters such as Bellini and Tintoretto. The images were colourful and brilliant, surprising as it is so dark inside. The accompanying music tied in beautifully with the presentation. There was also a presentation of the work of the Spanish painter Sorolla.
I wandered down corridors, up into the bleachers, and into side rooms and back areas where one could read about the displays and artists and see additional digital art exhibitions. You can get lost when you wander around but it doesn’t really matter. It’s part of the experience to keep discovering new images.
In la cube and la citerne “Recording Entropia” (also showing in Paris) and a “Cell Immersion” were creative and colourful shows that were playing.
If you’re visiting in the summer, it will be cool like in Carrières des Lumières in Les Baux, thanks to all the concrete that was used to construct this base.
(e) Future Shows
From now until January 7, 2024, there will be shows highlighting the art of Dali and Gaudi and 2 new immersive digital art projects, “The Other Garden” and “Infinite Horizons”. In April 2024 there are evening presentations of the “Destination Cosmos, the ultimate challenge” that takes you from earth into the solar system.
Bassins des Lumières
Location: Impasse Brown de Colstoun, Bordeaux (I took a tram and then a bus to get there)
February 20-March 31 and October 1-January 7, 2024
- Sunday-Thursday: 10-6 pm
- Friday, Saturday: 10-8 pm
April 1-September 30
- Sunday-Thursday: 10-7 pm
- Friday, Saturday: 10-9 pm
Cost: 15 €
My Favourite Immersive Art Experience In France
I have visited Les Carrières de Lumières three times and my last visit confirmed my opinion that it is much more impressive than Atelier des Lumières. This is inevitable as Les Carrières is obviously larger and with such high walls as “screens”, the images projected are simply more impressive.
I would say Bassins des Lumières comes in second. The water that reflects the colourful moving images makes the whole environment really unique.
So, if you’re next trip takes you to Paris, Les Baux-de-Provence, and Bordeaux, go to each of these digital art exhibitions where you’ll be immersed in art, light, and music. You won’t be disappointed.
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