In the basement below the main concourse of the Chelsea Market, in what was once that historic building's massive boiler room, a new exhibition space opened last week, the first permanent venue in New York City devoted solely to digital art. It's called, somewhat clumsily, Artechouse, and the inaugural installation is a trippy "synesthetic reality experiment" involving more than 300 million images that cover the walls and floor, swirling around and melting and blowing your goddamn mind. Or at least, kind of trying to.
The piece is Machine Hallucination by Refik Anadol, and the technology behind it is, according to the website, "the most technologically advanced art platform in the world", using a 16K resolution, 150 megapixel laser projection system. And it definitely does look amazing, especially when things really start flying around, as if the world is bending up on top of you, or you're in some sort of cave that's falling apart around you, but in a beautiful way. It's very Inception in parts.
Machine Hallucination uses lots of imagery from NYC architectural movements and styles, and purports to draw connections between the past and present in a new and interesting way. On this latter goal it succeeds less well, I thought, though it does give the work a vaguely educational air. The sound system's pretty incredible, but the whole product basically boils down to: just a cool thing to sit and stare at.
The looping piece lasts about 20 minutes, then immediately starts again, so if you want to take a break at some point there's a bar on the upper level that serves surprisingly delicious "Augmented Reality Mocktails," which basically means that if you download the Artechouse app and point your phone at your drink, the space around it comes alive (virtually). I had the Meatpacking District (toasted rice, blackberry, cacao, mint) and The Village (cucumber, basil, balsamic vinegar, peppercorn, mozzarella garnish), and in both cases the beverages were more interesting and satisfying than the digital fireworks.
Artechhouse would be really great if were free, but it's not. Adult tickets are $24, and although it appears as if you can stay as long as like, I'm not sure how long that could possibly be. There are a few padded benches, and a gallery worker will kindly offer you a cushion if you choose to sit on the floor in the middle of things (this is a better option), so it's all reasonably comfortable. But at that price it's not worth it.
The entrance to Artechouse is on 15th Street, closer to 10th Avenue, behind an extremely unmarked door.