In the more than 70 years since Manhattan’s Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank stopped being used for its original purpose, it has served as a DMV, a poll site, and temporary office space for city hall, located across the street. Now, after undergoing extensive renovations over the last three years, the Beaux Arts building is being reborn as NYC’s first permanent digital art center. Hall des Lumières opened on September 14 with an inaugural exhibit featuring the work of Gustav Klimt, the Austrian painter who led the Vienna secession movement at the beginning of the 20th century.
Jointly created by Culturespaces, a French museum foundation, and media production company IMG, this new digital art exhibition hall uses several dozen high-definition projectors to bring two dimensional works of art to life. During the opening exhibit Gustav Klimt: Gold in Motion, visitors can expect to see iconic paintings—including Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) and Judith and the Head of Holofernes (1901)—all set to a musical score as they move across the floor to the ceilings.
Restoring the Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank
After looking in New York for five or six years at a dozen or so venues, Gianfranco Iannuzzi, the show’s creative director, chose the Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank. Iannuzzi said he is drawn to venues in need of a renaissance that have often been disused for years.
“I look every time for a place that has a story, that has a soul,” Iannuzzi said.
The Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank, which opened in 1909, is of the same era as Klimt’s most popular paintings, including The Kiss (1907–1908). Restoration work on the landmarked building involved removing smoke stains from the days when cigarettes were allowed indoors. Original details, including ceiling laylights, the deposit slip station, and bank teller windows remain, while a platform in the back of the space was built out to give visitors a higher viewpoint onto the exhibit.
Below the main hall, the bank’s former vault is also being repurposed into a smaller gallery for contemporary works. Guests enter through the massive vault door to discover a mirrored space inside reflecting contemporary video art projections. The space opened with Recoding Entropia, an apocalyptic film set in space by François Vautier.
How “Gustav Klimt: Gold in Motion” differs from other immersive art shows
Right now, there are two other digital Klimt exhibits showing in various cities, including Detroit and London. However, these are hosted in pop-up spaces that are typically large warehouses with white walls.
“It is very important for me it’s just not a square that you put an image [on]—that is too easy,” Iannuzzi said. “It’s up to me to adapt my work to the space. And this space is very strong.”
And while Iannuzzi has designed Klimt shows that have been previously projected at other Culturespaces venues, including Atelier des Lumières in Paris and Fabrique des Lumières in Amsterdam, Iannuzzi adapts the show to each new space and allows the architecture to transform his work.
“In Paris it is different than in New York than in Seoul,” he said. “Each time you see something different.”
The soundtrack is also unique to this show and features music from the same region as Klimt, from such composers as Ludwig van Beethoven, Johann Strauss II, and Gustav Mahler. Unlike movies, which often score the imagery after it’s been filmed, Iannuzzi said he chose the paintings and the music in tandem because for immersive experiences “the music is very, very important.”
For example, during the show you’ll notice Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze (1902) is accompanied by Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which was the painter’s inspiration for the 112-foot-long work of art at Vienna’s Secession Building. Iannuzzi also realized that Klimt and Mahler vacationed at the same lake outside of Vienna. So he paired the paintings Klimt did at that site with Mahler’s music inspired by the same location.
You’ll also notice some contemporary composers, like Philip Glass, have been added to the mix since Iannuzzi believes Klimt is a timeless artist and his work shouldn’t be accompanied solely by classical artists from one time period.
How to plan your visit
Located at 49 Chambers Street in lower Manhattan, Hall des Lumières is open Sunday through Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Friday and Saturday until 10 p.m.
Guests should plan on spending about an hour inside the exhibit. Gustav Klimt: Gold in Motion lasts for about 30 minutes and is followed by a short immersive exhibit featuring the work of Friedensreich Hundertwasser, a midcentury Austrian painter inspired by Klimt, as well as 5 Movements, a 10-minute exploration of different styles of dance from the art, design, and technology studio Nohlab. All three exhibits loop and guests can stay for as long as they’d like.
How to purchase tickets
Buy now: ticketmaster.com
Timed entry tickets—permitted 30 minutes from the reserved time—are on sale now for Gustav Klimt: Gold in Motion via ticketmaster.com for visits through December 31, 2022. (It’s likely the Klimt show will be extended beyond that date, since Culturespaces says it plans on rotating its main exhibit once every 10 to 12 months.) Limited tickets are available for purchase in person at the box office.
Admission is $30 for adults, $28 for seniors 65+, $15 for youth ages 5–16, $19 for college students, and $25 for veterans/active duty military and first responders. Children under five enter for free. A $75 family offer includes two standard admission and two youth tickets.