The definition of immerse is “to plunge into something that surrounds or covers.” That is a good description of Immersed: Local to Global Art Sensations, the new exhibit at the McNay Art Museum. Each room by a different artist is an experience that envelops you.
This exhibit is a little different from what most museum visitors are used to. We are used to seeing the Stieren Center’s exhibit space divided into a maze of temporary walls for hanging lots of paintings, as for 2014’s Intimate Impressionism. For “Immersed,” the gallery space is open like a hangar, punctuated by pods or enclosures for each room that visitors will enter.
In addition to the gallery space being different, the way visitors experience these rooms is also new. I wanted to offer readers, especially families with children, guidance about what to expect at “Immersed.” There is so much here for families to enjoy—don’t be intimidated, but do plan ahead.
Prepare to be “Immersed”
My son, F.T. (age 10), and my daughter, G.N. (age 8), are museum veterans, but “Immersed” had some fun surprises for all of us. This blog post is based on our visit to “Immersed” on opening day, June 7, 2018, and on the McNay’s detailed FAQs. If you still have questions, call the McNay at 210-805-1783 for more guidance.
San Antonio residents are used to being able to walk up to events, but for “Immersed,” it’s a good idea to make a reservation in advance. “Immersed” features an infinity room by Yayoi Kusama, and in some cities, wait times for Kusama rooms can stretch for hours. San Antonio is not likely to see that kind of demand, but having a reservation makes it more likely that you and your family will enjoy your visit.
The exhibit page has links for members and non-members to make reservations. Online reservations open for a month at a time, with museum members getting priority, until the exhibit closes on September 2, 2018.
Members get free admission to the museum, and their first visit to “Immersed” is free; subsequent visits are $10 per adult. Non-member adults pay $20 for general admission, and reservations to “Immersed” are included. During times when the museum offers free admission, visits to “Immersed” are $10 per adult, payable when you check in. Children 19 and younger are always free.
Visitors can also make reservations over the phone by calling 210-805-1783. Call ahead for groups of ten or more.
If you have a reservation, or if you are hoping to drop in, go to Visitor Services to check in. Our reservation was for 10 a.m., when the museum opened, and we noticed that the line was longer than usual. If your reservation is for later in the day, the McNay recommends that you arrive at Visitor Services 20 minutes early.
We brought a printout of our reservation and showed it at Visitor Services. The staff member gave each of us a timed pass to enter the Kusama room. Next, we went to the cloakroom and borrowed a locker to stash our backpack.
Getting “Immersed” at the McNay
The doorway to “Immersed” is a curtain of silver beads. The gallery is configured as a big open space with the artists’ rooms spread out like campsites or islands. We followed a U-shaped path to visit all the rooms, then exited through another beaded curtain.
The first room is “Pleasure Principle” by Chris Sauter. In contemporary art, navigating the boundary between art and not-art can be hard for adults, and even harder for kids. My kids wanted to make themselves at home in the living room; I reminded them not to touch or move things. They were fascinated by the holes in the walls and the molecular models made of the stacked-up plywood circles. We lingered in the room, watching the video projections change and talking about what we saw.
The next room is “Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity” by Yayoi Kusama. From the outside, we saw a white box that looked like a walk-in freezer or a storage pod. Stanchions, ropes, and staff members guide visitors where to wait and what to do. At the time we visited, there was no line to enter the infinity room. We simply presented our passes and then another staff member, holding a stopwatch, explained the procedure for viewing the room.
We walked in together. We took a few steps forward, but stopped before reaching the line of tape on the floor. We stayed in the center of the room, and I reminded my kids to not touch the hanging lamps. As the door closed behind us, the infinity-room effect of the mirrored walls took over our perception. The staff member timed us for one minute, then knocked on the door to signal us to exit.
One minute in a Kusama room is brief but intense. The lights are programmed to flicker, dim, and rise again. I felt an emotional ride, and the brightening lights felt like hope. After our minute in the room, we stopped to talk about our experiences. F.T. said it was like being in outer space. G.N. said it was like the night sky.
Think ahead about whether to spend your minute taking photos or videos or just living in the moment. I knew I wanted to share about our experience, so I planned to keep my smartphone handy while talking with my kids about what they saw. I have already made a reservation to go back and experience the room with my phone firmly in my pocket.
Typically, the staff send two people into the Kusama room at the same time. Both of my kids entered the room with me. If you will be shepherding a large group of children, bring extra adults: the staff will not allow children to wait in line unattended.
The Playfulness of Being “Immersed”
After the Kusama room, the next thing we encountered were wall panels covered with color-changing sequins. We had fun rubbing our hands on the sequins to change the colors and make patterns.
In a dark room, we watched part of an unfinished short film of a sunset by Andy Warhol. The connections to Dominique and John de Menil and the Vatican pavilion at HemisFair 1968 are noteworthy. For anything related to the de Menil family, I always approach with an open mind—which really paid off when visiting the Cy Twombly Gallery in Houston. Warhol may have been looking for a way to express the de Menil’s spiritual vision, but the message didn’t get through to me, and my kids thought the film was “boring” and “weird.” If you’re curious about Warhol, I recommend visiting “Andy Warhol | Billy Schenck” at the Briscoe Western Art Museum through September 3, 2018.
My kids were thrilled to play with a Litezilla, like a jumbo Lite Brite. They noticed that it’s similar to the interactive light wall in the DoSeum‘s “Dream Tomorrow Today” exhibit (through January 6, 2019) and the Light Lab at the Thinkery in Austin.
The final room, “Shadow Monsters” by Philip Worthington, left us wanting to come back and spend more time. A camera looks at visitors’ silhouettes and adds extra parts, like tentacles or horns. The museum has provided baskets of props like pool noodles and pinwheels to change your profile and get even wackier results.
We are looking forward to return visits to “Immersed” at the McNay. I hope this guide helps you plan for your own family’s visit to this collection of extraordinary rooms. The McNay strives to be inclusive, and there is no need for families to feel intimidated. This exhibit will expand what you think museums can do.
- “McNay’s ‘Immersed’ Showcases SA Artist Chris Sauter Alongside International Art Stars,” Dan R. Goddard, San Antonio Current, June 7, 2018
- “McNay’s big summer show ‘Immersed’ opens Thursday,” Deborah Martin, San Antonio Express-News, June 6, 2018
- “Infinity in 60 Seconds at McNay Museum’s Immersed Exhibition,” Wendy Weil Atwell, Rivard Report, May 29, 2018
- “Tickets Available Soon for Kusama in San Antonio,” Glasstire, May 6, 2018
- “McNay Art Museum Free Family Day: Summer Block Party,” Rosalinda Moylan, Alamo City Moms Blog, July 18, 2017
- “Enjoy it with your kids: Intimate Impressionism at the McNay Art Museum,” Inga Cotton, Alamo City Moms Blog, September 25, 2014
- “Introducing your kids to art appreciation at the McNay Art Museum,” Inga Cotton, Alamo City Moms Blog, January 30, 2014