Elevating the immersive art experience

An insider’s guide to transforming Dalí: Cybernetics_ into a more enriching exhibition

9 min readFeb 26, 2024

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The fabric of life is made of experiences

Experiences are the currency in which we measure the richness of our lives. We cherish the mosaic of memories made up by celebrations, travels, tough conversations, joys and sorrows alike. We glance behind at the exhibitions we’ve wandered through, the artworks that left us in awe, and those fleeting feelings of inspiration and sense of possibility.

And so, as we navigate the Experience Economy, we become hungry for experiences that transcend the ordinary. We crave moments that not only entertain, but also move us deeply, inviting us into a world of wonder and guiding us toward meaning.

Isn’t this quest for enriching moments what draws us to immersive exhibitions like Dalí: Cybernetics_?

As I dive into the design and intent behind this popular art experience, I explore how it can be improved to meet such aspirations. In this article, I share 3 ways to elevate immersive art experiences in general and Dalí: Cybernetics_ in particular.

An insider’s trained eye

As an experience designer who had the unique opportunity to be part of the Dalí: Cybernetics_ exhibition’s staff team during its debut in Copenhagen in the fall-winter of 2023–2024, I have a few thoughts about it.

In this role, I worked towards providing a good service to visitors: welcoming them, sharing necessary information, and guiding them throughout the exhibition. It was a great chance to analyse the guest journey first hand, through an insider’s eye.

Every day, I would observe different visitors come in and interact with the exhibition elements and the staff, ask questions, and have emotional reactions. I’ve talked to seasoned visitors and with those who’d never seen anything like it before; with all age groups, from kids to seniors; with regular VR users and newbies alike. And so, day by day, patterns would emerge.

But first, what is Dalí: Cybernetics_?

Recent years have seen the rise of immersive art experiences breathing new life into the works of long-deceased masters like Van Gogh, Monet, and, more recently, Dalí. Using technologies such projection-mapping, touchscreens, or VR glasses, these eye-catching exhibitions have been received with great anticipation by audiences worldwide.

Dalí: Cybernetics_ is one such immersive art experience, co-created by Layers of Reality and Exhibition Hub, consisting of 360° large-format projections, interactive installations, virtual reality and artificial intelligence, reimagining the artworks through more recent technological possibilities.

Virtual Reality at Dalí: Cybernetics_. Image source: Massive Art Attack

An exciting new medium or a “money grab”?

While these immersive ventures are being popular with the general public, the experience design community is regarding them with part excitement part reluctancy. Some experts see their ability to introduce audiences to the world of immersive, with its vast possibilities, whereas others call them a “money grab”, enticing to the eye but lacking in substance.

I have mixed feelings about them myself. On one hand, these exhibitions showcase the paintings at a new scale, helping visitors consider them from a fresh angle. On the other, there is ample room for improvement in truly instilling that lasting sense of enrichment in guests’ lives.

New scale, new perspective

Witnessing Dalí’s masterpieces through 360° projections or virtual reality is indeed very different from looking at a static painting framed on a gallery wall, with a little plaque next to it.

Dalí: Cybernetics_ explores a new medium. Technology breathes dynamism into the art, paintings being deconstructed and re-assembled to tell a story beyond their original bounds, accompanied by a curated soundtrack; the artwork elements animate, breaking free from the confines of their frames.

In fact, the frame just becomes larger, encompassing the entire hall, and you are invited to step inside. That is how immersion happens — you become surrounded by the work, sharing the same frame. It is a powerful experience indeed to be able to stand inside a painting, a privilege granted by the vision of the exhibition’s creators.

360° projection room at Dalí: Cybernetics_

Never before have we been able to travel through Dalí’s metaverse — a virtual reality journey called “The Ship of Dreams” — and encounter iconic symbols like melting clocks, long-legged elephants, or giant lobsters. Participants sail through this surreal landscape, interacting with each other and with virtual objects.

Visitors participating in the virtual reality experience at Dalí: Cybernetics_ in Copenhagen

I have seen large emotional reactions from guests exiting the VR: “Wooow!”, Fantastic!”, “I don’t want to go back to reality!” were some of the most common reactions. I’ve witnessed moments of playfulness and of contemplation, of fear and surprise. I’ve noticed guests laughing and crying. And I’ve also met a minority who disliked it — some not even wanting to participate.

It is valuable to update the works to bridge the technological gap between Dalí’s time and today, especially to the medium of VR. I can see that much work and attention to detail went into the creation of these new ways to showcase the artworks. And this dedication shows through the audience’s emotional reactions.

Missed opportunities

However, in focusing mainly on these technological translations, it seems there’s been an oversight of the overall guest journey. In my observations, opportunities for deeper engagement and immersion often went unexplored. The experience, while visually and technologically impressive, occasionally lacks the thoughtfulness and depth that could truly transform it from a mere viewing into a profound journey.

Here are my three key recommendations to elevate Dalí: Cybernetics_ into a more enriching exhibition.

1. Add meaning

Not all experiences are created equal. To illustrate this, I often refer to The Experience Hierarchy by Rossman & Duerden, shown below.

The Experience Hierarchy by Rossmann & Duerden, which I represented as a ladder.

According to Rossman & Duerden, the higher up you go in the hierarchy, the higher the impact the experience will have over participants’ lives and more highly will they recommend it to other people. For the more business-minded among us, this means higher Net Promoter Scores (NPS).

Thanks to the emotional reactions that guests have during their visit, Dalí: Cybernetics_ qualifies as memorable and, therefore, as a higher-order experience. Would it also qualify as meaningful, then? According to the model, meaningful experiences need the discovery element — gaining an insight about oneself, others or the world.

“Even during the most remarkable creative experiences, when we are filled with wonder and awe, we are passively receptive until the work connects with our lives.”

— Burickson & LeRoux, Odyssey Works

To step up and arrive at those insights, guests need moments of reflection, moments when they can make sense of how what they are experiencing connects to their own lives. Without these reflection opportunities, they rush out into the ordinary world, life comes in the way, and a memorable experience will miss the chance of becoming a meaningful one — and that’s a shame.

Imagine the profound impact Dalí: Cybernetics_ could achieve if it provided invitations and spaces for visitors to reflect with questions like: What new perspectives or inspirations have I gained from seeing Dalí’s art through this unconventional lens? Or, how might I incorporate interdisciplinary approaches into my own creative endeavors, following Dalí’s example?

Let’s not leave guests to fend for themselves when it comes to meaning-making. Engage them personally. Make it easy for them to transform their emotions into insights by integrating these invitations into the experience.

Next, let’s explore how we can further enhance the exhibition through paying attention to all stages of the visitor journey.

2. Don’t neglect the transitions

If the intention is to invite people into the surrealist, interdisciplinary and experimental world of Dalí, why is the entry experience so … ordinary?

Entrance to Dalí: Cybernetics_ in Copenhagen

The journey begins in an unexpectedly conventional manner: you are greeted at a front desk by staff in ordinary attire, receiving a standard welcome and ticket check, before being ushered into the exhibition. This leads to a procession through the first three rooms, each densely packed with text panels, overwhelming visitors with information that the upcoming projection room is already designed to present in a far more engaging way.

It is a huge missed opportunity. Entries are crucial moments in every experience. Their role is, first, to take guests’ mind away from their day-to-day worries, and second, to welcome them into an alternative world.

So, how might we redesign a ‘crossing of the threshold’ that brings guests to the present moment? And how might we use this opportunity to set the stage for what there is to come?

Imagine, instead, making your way in between the thin legs of Dalí’s iconic elephants, or staff members styling extravagant moustaches, inviting you into a world beyond the ordinary. These reimagined initial moments would more effectively dissolve the outside world and lay the ground for the journey into the surreal.

Similarly, the exit — funnelling guests directly from the emotional climax of the VR experience into the merchandise shop — feels jarringly commercial and abrupt.

A well-crafted exit would, first, offer guests a chance to look back on their experience and, second, prepare them for stepping back into reality. Perhaps a space for visitors to express their thoughts through drawing, engage in discussions, or participate in a final, memorable act could serve as a bridge back to the everyday world, ensuring the journey concludes on a note as impactful as its beginning.

By rethinking these transitions, we not only honour the spirit of Dalí but also deepen the impact of the entire experience, making it a journey that truly resonates and lingers with the visitor long after they’ve returned to the mundane world.

And talking about lingering, let’s not overlook the key role of memorabilia, a tangible bridge between the experience and its lasting imprint on our lives.

3. Design better memorabilia

Time and again, I’ve seen guests holding on to the 3D glasses (used to watch the 3D part of the projection) as cherished keepsakes, all to the cost of the exhibition managers, who had to continuously restock them.

While these glasses were not intended as souvenirs, guests kept clinging to them. Why? Because these glasses are memorabilia. In other words, they are physical objects that carry memories and emotions far beyond the confines of the exhibition space. They become treasure chest items that extend the experience into the future.

Would you agree that they are powerful? I think so.

Yet, unlike those unlucky 3D glasses, merchandise is actually meant to be taken home and enjoyed as memorabilia.

Left: Travel bag with art print. Right: Ceramic elephant figurine. Both available as merchandise at Dalí: Cybernetics_ in Copenhagen

Unfortunately, merchandise is generally rather unimaginative, consisting mostly of printing artworks on ordinary items like mugs, notebooks, or travel bags. The selection available at Dalí’s was no different (except for the ceramic elephant figurine above — that one was awesome!).

It is true that visitors were happy even with those 3D glasses. Yet, I can’t help but wonder how much more powerful would those memory anchors be if they were as extraordinary as the experience itself — bonus points if they make direct connection to specific interactions during the experience or if the guest could help create or customise them.

The potential for memorabilia to not just remind, but to resonate, is immense, highlighting the opportunity for a more thoughtful approach to their design.

Final thoughts: Time to step up

The art of great exhibition design lies in meticulous attention to every touchpoint in the guest journey, knowing that every detail can build up towards a more impactful experience.

And, as a bonus tip for the pro exhibition designers out there, let us not forget the staff experience, as they are key players in the guests’ journey. Aim for the ultimate win-win-win scenario: happy guests, happy staff, thriving business.

The team and I on our last day at Dalí: Cybernetics_ in Copenhagen

Our collective craving for rich, immersive experiences — moments we gather, cherish, and reflect upon— highlights the equal importance and complexity of the experience design task. In the quest to design the extraordinary, let’s strive for creating spaces that resonate deeply with those who explore them, leaving lasting impressions that contribute to a life well lived.

Hi! I’m Monica Matei, your strategic guide for crafting impactful experiences for your guests, customers or teams. I’m always happy to discuss experience design and to, hopefully, inspire you — feel free to reach out on Linkedin.

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Experience designer who sees the world as a collection of moments waiting to be made memorable. Find me at Ceremonica.