REVIEW: MEXICAN GENIUSES
A joyous celebration of art… but is this the future?
IMMERSIVE is the newest buzz word in the event and hospitality industries. Themed restaurant? No, it’s an immersive restaurant. Allowing people to choose their own cocktail ingredients? Sounds immersive. Encouraging people to dress up? Slap an immersive tag on it.
Its popularity is largely due to the immense success of large-scale productions like Secret Cinema, Punch Drunk and the newly opened Phantom Peak.
It’s perhaps surprising that the art world has taken so long to catch on to this omnipotent craze - until this year, when Fever Up brought a slew of immersive art experiences to London. Current offerings include Van Gogh, Monet, Klimt, Dali and Mexican Geniuses, a tribute to the work of South American’s most celebrated artists, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.
Housed in a grey commercial unit in Surrey Quay’s Dock X, it’s not the obvious choice for an exhibition of rainbow-coloured art, but once inside, we’re transported into the tempestuous couple’s world with a huge projection of Diego’s Detroit Industry Murals, which were painted at Ford’s River Rouge assembly plant. It’s a thought-provoking introduction to the artist’s work, given the controversy that surrounded its commission (Diego was a Marxist and many saw the mural as a celebration of his beliefs at a time of the Great Depression, strikes and even deaths in the workplace) and elsewhere in the room are Diego’s self portraits and ten foot tall, papier mâché sculptures.
A second room opens up Frida’s work with a clever 3D interpretation of her lost painting, The Wounded Table, which brings the table and its occupants into the foreground and gives a new perspective on a piece only seen in photographs since its disappearance in 1955.
But we’re soon ushered through thick curtains into the centrepiece of Mexican Geniuses; the room that allows visitors to become - dare we say it - immersed in the life and work of Diego and Frida.
It’s undeniably impressive. We slump onto bean bags in the centre of the room, where all four walls light up with projection-mapped recreations of the artists’ works, each selected to carefully tell the stories of their lives, personalities and often troubled relationship.
A Frida-headed deer leaps behind us, zipping behind trees as a series of masked children lurk in the background; the walls become enveloped with colourful flowers, which give way to scenes of birth and tragedy, interspersed with self-portraits that track Frida’s progression through early adulthood, terrible accidents and the resulting injuries and celebrations of marriage.
It’s well pitched for families, with a narrative told through art for older visitors, while youngsters marvel at the colours and images moving around them and dripping across the floor to a soundtrack of Mexican inspired music. At 40 minutes long, it managed to capture - and keep - the attention of our pre-school aged children, which is no mean feat.
We may be celebrating the lives of artists born over a century ago, but the modern age demands Instagram opportunities, which are served up with gusto in the penultimate display. There are various opportunities to take a snap for the ‘gram and A 3D photo opportunity with Frida, the angel of death and a childlike Diego proves too much to ignore for the crowds queuing up on our visit. The huge colouring wall was a lovely touch, allowing children (or particularly keen adults) to grab a marker pen and get to work on a mural.
The final room invites guests to truly step inside a different world. A VR experience - which costs an additional £5 - offers the chance to stroll through the afterlife with Frida and Diego themselves, as they lead the way across to the ‘other side’ via a traditional Dias Los Muertos celebration.
And so we stagger back through gift shop and into the drab surroundings of Surrey Quays retail park, a world away from the colourful depictions of sunny Mexico we have just encountered, to gather our thoughts.
Mexican Geniuses is an exciting, fresh take on art that captures the imagination of children in a way no gallery ever could, turning paintings into an experience for the modern ages. But it’s also something that leaves us with a niggling doubt: Is this the future of art?
In a world where digital art and the murky subculture of NFTs are pushing their way into the mainstream, it seems a shame to experience Frida and Diego without a single, original piece of their creation on show. None of Frida’s famous, colourful dresses or floral headpieces. None of their paintbrushes or easels. And certainly none of their art.
Of course, some pieces on show - most notably The Wounded Table and Detroit Industry Murals - could only be experienced in London via the undoubtedly brilliant digital trickery displayed here and many stuffier art galleries and museums could learn plenty from the beautiful way in which it is presented. This technology undoubtedly has a place alongside art, but could The Louvre welcome thousands of visitors every year to look at a picture of the Mona Lisa?
A couple who spent their lives tirelessly, relentlessly creating and telling their stories through brushstrokes are represented throughout with digital recreations, as if we have entered Mexico via Walt Disney’s Epcot.
Mexican Geniuses is thoroughly enjoyable, wonderfully engaging, educational and fun. Perhaps it’s testament to its power that it left us yearning to see a real Frida painting in the flesh.
Tickets from £11.50
Dock X, Unit 1 Canada Water, Surrey Quays Rd, London SE16 2XU Buy tickets