Mercer Labs: NYC’s First (Truly) Immersive Museum
I’m sitting on a clear, swinging bench suspended in midair. All around me, grassy tunnels swirl and give way to millions of rocks — asteroids, or maybe grains of dirt? Could be either. Could be both. At Mercer Labs, the art is in the experience of the beholder. Your field of vision and sound dictates what the exhibit holds. Your levels of playfulness and curiosity determine the fullness of your visit. I was immediately drawn in, energized by the mystery of what the next curtained room or hidden corridor held.
Mercer Labs, a new art and technology museum, is now open in the Financial District of New York City — in the iconic former Century 21 flagship space.
The museum is the brainchild of artist Roy Nachum, along with his wife and partner, Maia Nachum, and their circle of artists, architects, creators, and brand visionaries. Probably best known for his cover art of Rihanna’s 2016 Anti album, which earned him a Grammy nomination in 2017, Roy has also produced installations for Lebron James and NYC Mayor Eric Adams.
At Mercer Labs, the inaugural exhibition is Roy’s own Limitless, a collection of 15 immersive and experiential exhibits filled with infinite LED landscapes, enormous doves, puffy pink caverns with hydrangea waterfalls, kaleidoscoping patterns, and otherworldly mergers between art and technology.
Touring the museum on its opening day, my son and I experienced the interactive elements of the exhibits; in one room we were encouraged to scan our crayon creations into a 3D virtual forest. My striped stegosaurus romped around with a brightly colored bird uploaded by my son, our creatures frolicking with other guests’ new spirit animals.
In the adjoining room, a ball pit with an illuminated slide is another invitation to experience childlike delight.
For me, the immersion in light, sound, and plastic generated uninhibited joy. Roy creates art that breaks traditional barriers between observers and sacred objects. Art, and immersive art in particular, has the potential to change our perceptions and shift psychological frames.
Earlier in his career, Roy blindfolded himself for a week while interviewing people who are blind, to explore his subconscious through art. At Mercer Labs, he is interested in heightening our senses through immersive experiences and the use of Braille and blindfolds. The core theme of blindness was most apparent in a room overwhelmed by bass and white noise. Blindfolded, we were inundated with ethereal melodies and demanding vibrations that created non-visual shapes in our minds.
Mercer Labs isn’t breaking new ground: the museum evokes participatory exhibits like Pulse Topology at Superblue in Miami, where you record and leave behind your heartbeat, or Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms at the Tate Modern and elsewhere. But by bringing a cultural institution like this to Lower Manhattan — an area both steeped in history and brimming with possibilities — Roy and his collaborators are inviting us to connect with our inner child, to allow our senses to be awakened, and to be immersed in a collective experience, spirit animals included.
Mercer Labs is now open at 21 Dey Street.
Join us in XP Land. A community for experiential creatives and experience-makers, brand leaders and IP-owners, space stewards and venue visionaries — all of those in the business of epic gatherings and live, immersive storytelling.