Therme Art Program

What does it mean to experience art ?

Art in a museum setting can be inapproachable. Echoing white halls, people murmuring at a careful whisper, hands behind their back, like the slightest mis-step will crack the sculpture, ruin the atmosphere, and expose the offender to the judgemental glares of those who “belong there.” With such rigid conditions, why would anyone subject themself to the museum?


This strict atmosphere creates unhealthy relationships between people and art, forcing them to see it as something that must be viewed correctly, interacted with only according to certain set standards, and it ultimately threatens the ability to find meaning, and joy, through art.

Experiential art signifies a shift in this relationship. Art that is “experiential” is art that makes space, allowing the viewer to navigate through, over, around the work, exploring it freely, or guided by the artist’s hand. It engages the senses beyond sight, incorporating sound, scent and touch, blurring the line between art that can only be seen, sacred in the museum, and art that is part of life, with its varied senses.

Yet as artists strive to create works that connect directly with people on a scale that lets the viewer be fully immersed in the space of art, new avenues outside of traditional institutions are required to house the multisensory, exploratory art that melts the boundaries of the museum. Experiential art ventures such as Superblue provide one path, as spaces that exist explicitly for works of this scale to have a place where broad swathes of the public are able to access them. They provide targeted technologies that allow for the housing of large scale works that integrate multi-sensory and digital aspects. These specialized venues exist alongside the integration of experiential art into urban communities and public spaces, which afford diverse environments for works to build on. Therme Art works to transform human interactions with the artistic environment by fostering works across both experiential art centers and urban spaces to encourage new, experiential relationships between people and art.

The potential for experiential art to enhance the sensory qualities of existing spaces is explored through Egill Saebjörnsson’s commission for Therme Bucharest, The Mother, which merges water, projection and form to create a bathing area that is simultaneously sculpture, fountain and thermal bath. In this case, integration of art becomes part of a holistic wellbeing experience, enveloping bathers in an additional sensory layer. Egill is using the amphibious environment of the thermal bath, and its historical roots as a site of artistic splendor, to develop a sensory experience that is inextricable from the practical purpose of the space. The work wraps around the visitors, displacing them from the warm water of the bath to the space of the womb, an all encompassing moment of reflection and relaxation that makes visitor’s feelings an essential component of The Mother.

Experiential art has the potential to reactivate even existing museums, as has been achieved by Tino Sehgal through his use of bodies to make space, including recently at the National Football Museum in Manchester. Tino’s body of work, including This entry, which was co-commissioned by Therme Art for the Manchester International Festival 2023, renegotiates both people’s relationships with each other, and also their relationship with a work of art. Made up of people and their actions, the work forces viewers, even transient ones, to navigate the space around these bodies. In This entry, encounters between song, sport and dance activate the room sonically as well as physically, transforming the audience’s experience of space into one shaped by the presence of sound and people. Through this practice of activating buildings through bodies, Tino’s work cultivates new places of being, challenging visitors’ perception of themselves and the space around them.

A broader view on experiential art can encompass art initiatives that take the form of workshops, such as Jeppe Hein’s Today I Feel Like… and Breathe with Me. Therme Art brought the works to school children in Manchester in 2021, and will soon take the project to Bucharest, to spread mental health and wellbeing awareness among young students. The initiative brings art out of the institutions and to local children, who may feel especially lost within the stuffy confines of a museum, and thus allows them to freely experience the artworks and their healing potential. These works from Jeppe cannot exist without the active participation of an audience, making it art that is created by the people who partake in it.

As generations come to value “experiences” over objects, demand for experiential art will continue to grow. Spaces that permit these multi-sensory works will also become essential components of the arts ecosystem. This paradigm shift in how people view and interact with art necessitates new institutions that can support a culture of experience, including Superblue’s experiential art centers. By filling a gap in the contemporary art system, these spaces are able to propel the experiential economy forward, creating a culture that encourages the creation of further experiential works that will transform the relationship between people and art.

Across spaces and senses, experiential art has the capacity to engage viewers without the strict rituals of traditional art installations. By making art approachable, it becomes accessible to individuals and communities that may not traditionally consider themselves drawn to art. A broader conception of experiential art that reframes art around the viewers, empowering them to feel themselves in a space, engaging their senses, their sense of wonder, creates a culture of open exploration and curiosity. People are free to play with the art, and so free to understand it within its context and on their own terms.