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  • Writer's pictureTer Hollmann

A Brief History of the Atelier des Lumières in Paris

What is Atelier des Lumières?

Atelier des Lumières is a digital art museum that holds immersive art exhibitions that are accompanied by music and video.

Atelier des Lumières, Salvador Dalì L'énigme sans fin

Immersivearteditor, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Atelier des Lumières History

The language of art has changed. No longer limited to painting or drawing, modern technologies offer us a whole new way to make, enjoy and appreciate art. Live streams, design apps, social media, editing software, photo filters and phone cameras that shoot in ultra-high definition are just a few of the tools that make art easier to produce and consume.

Atelier des Lumières, a digital art centre, embraces the modern language of art to create an experience that celebrates the old masters while simultaneously becoming a work of art in itself through its innovative technological displays.

The centre is housed in an old industrial warehouse that began life way back in 1835 as an iron foundry. The two Plichon brothers, Jacques François Alexandre and Hilaire Pierre, founded the business to supply parts to the navy and various railway companies. For nearly 100 years, four generations of the Plichon family successfully ran the foundry business.

Then, in 1929, disaster struck with the global financial crash, which brought an end to the business. The company was dissolved six years later and the building was sold to the Martin family, who are still the owners to this day. The building was used as a tool manufacturing plant for the next 65 years, and then lay empty until Bruno Monnier, the President of Culturespaces, a French museum foundation that specialise in immersive art displays, recognised its potential.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. For many, the old foundry was a gritty mass of concrete and steel, with a cavernous 3,300 metre squared hole and 10 metre-high walls of bland nothing. But for Monnier and Culturespaces, it had the potential to become an elegant new multimedia gallery.

There was no desire to radically alter the architecture. In fact, respect for the origins of the building was at the core of their artistic manifesto. All additions and renovations have been done with authentic materials that honour its 19th-century heritage.

The centre opened in April 2018 with an exhibition that paid tribute to the work of Gustav Klimt, and over 1.2 million people visited the space in its first twelve months.

Monnier says it best when he described his vision for the centre: ‘The role of an art centre is to decompartmentalise, and that is why digital technology is so important in 21st-century exhibitions. Used for creative purposes, it has become a formidable vector for dissemination, and is capable of creating links between eras, add[ing] dynamism to artistic practices, amplify[ing] emotions, and reach[ing] the largest possible audience’.

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