CINCINNATI -- Ringing in the new year will look a little different this year at 21c Museum Hotel Cincinnati.
The boutique hotel and art-driven museum will host Momentum, an immersive, virtual reality-themed New Year's Eve party. It's the hotel's way of welcoming the future while staying true to its roots as arbiters of innovative art.
"(The idea came from) a desire to put on a party that has as much substance as fun, shows some hope for the future and bring together a real variety of people," said Eli Meiners, director of museum operations at 21c.
In 2016, 21c began acquiring virtual reality-based art to its permanent collection. Alice Gray Stites, museum director and chief curator for 21c, said the group is committed to exhibiting the work of today's most visionary artists, many of whom are working at the forefront of technological innovation.
Stites said that throughout history, artists have been early adopters of technology. "Today that frontier is the virtual one."
Jakob Kusk Steensen's "Primal Tourism (2016)" will be featured at Momentum. A virtual-reality artwork in which colonialism, tourism and science fiction overlap, "Primal Tourism" offers a first-person virtual-reality tour of Bora Bora at an undefined point in the future when the island is no longer inhabited. The visual landscape of this virtual island is based on actual satellite data and travel journals, and the work challenges the viewer's relationship to time and space.
In addition to showcasing this new work, 21c enlisted local artist groups Modern Makers and IRL Gallery to contribute interactive works and installations.
"We are presenting some virtual-reality artwork, along with other things that will be on view," said IRL Gallery co-owner Austin Radcliffe. "We will have a station or two of virtual-reality headsets and cool stuff in this world to step into."
A contemporary art gallery in Over-the-Rhine focused on digital and virtual reality art, IRL features works by artists both local and from as far away as Shanghai. It's much more economical to send a Dropbox file with an artist's virtual-reality work than it is to ship a painting, Radcliffe said.
"We're at this interesting stage in technology where people are chomping at the bit to do more with it," he said. "Those who are on the cutting edge are really pushing the limits, so galleries and museums are following along pretty quickly -- much faster than when photography was first invented. This has infiltrated the larger contemporary art world pretty quickly."
Google Cardboard is a well-known example of commercially available virtual-reality technology, wherein you can purchase a pair of viewers and download apps to create and control your own simulated experience. Even local light and music festival Lumenocity got in on the action, featuring a virtual-reality dome this year.
IRL Gallery's virtual-reality technician Ian Anderson has created a series of hyper-real renderings for the party. From a sculpture wading pool that invites users to jump in, to a dream-like yard littered with tennis balls, Anderson's work sits somewhere between an unsettlingly accurate replica and absurd poetic gesture.
Local artist Jordan Tate is contributing a 3-D model of Machu Picchu, and another local artist, Josh Anderson, is contributing a 3-D animated video piece.
Modern Makers, a multi-disciplinary art collaborative founded five years ago by creative partners Catherine Richards and Anh Tran, will offer more concrete physical elements to Momentum while still playing with the concept of reality.
"We're making several different experiential pieces," said Richards, an artist and architect. She created digital film projections that will play in the ballroom, covering the dance floor in floral-tapestry projections that move, swapping images and textures.
"We're also going to have two or three beds for people to lay on and be a part of the projections while they're laying on the bed, to play into the whole 'hotel fun' situation," said Tran.
They also have created a series of three large boxes, walled with mirrors, with video clips playing inside. Tran and Richards envision an interactive experience where viewers peer inside the boxes and not only watch the videos but reflect on the past, present and future.
"It's a bizarre play on virtual reality, and more intimate," said Tran.
The layout of different experiences allows partygoers to choose their own adventure.
"You discover it," said Richards. "We don't say, 'Do this first, second and third.' You'll find these special little moments and have both an intimate experience and this amazing collective experience."
If you go
When: Starts at 9 p.m. Dec. 31
Where: 21c Museum Hotel Cincinnati, 609 Walnut St., Downtown
Who can attend: Ages 21 and up.
Admission: $150 per person.
Includes a premium open bar and appetizers from Metropole. Features DJs Direct Deposit and Sabastooge. Sponsored by Watershed Distillery and Brown Forman.
Information: 21cmomentumnye.eventbrite.com or call 513-578-6611.