Art Basel 2017: These virtual-reality exhibits will show you 'crazy things' | Video

For Mike Winkelmann, the future of Las Vegas is bright and lined with fake, neon palm trees.

Blinking “Welcome to Las Vegas” signs shoot up from the ground. High-rises on the Strip seem to come alive, bending and corkscrewing like rectangular Rubik’s cubes. Flying cars aglow in blue neon zoom overhead.

Welcome to Winkelmann’s “Futuristic Playground,” a three-minute simulation of a high-tech, utopian Vegas that exists only in virtual reality, and which can only be visited with a pair of Samsung Gear VR goggles.

The Charleston, S.C., artist’s wonderland is part of the new virtual-reality exhibit “Vegas: Alter Your Reality,” featuring 360-degree simulations from five artists inspired by the allure of Sin City. The exhibit, opening Thursday, Dec. 7, at Zadok Art Gallery in Miami, is one of four virtual- and augmented-reality exhibits debuting during Art Basel 2017.

“It’s an overload of crazy things going on in future Vegas,” Winkelmann, who goes by the artist moniker “Beeple,” says of his simulation. “I wanted to put you in that dynamic environment. It’s a playful way to re-capture the awe you feel of seeing the Vegas strip for the first time.”

At Zadok Art Gallery, virtual-reality headsets appear in five small rooms, each dimly lit and decorated with LED walls, blue Plexiglas skyscrapers and blinking cherries and lemons, all inspired by the artists’ videos. You would be forgiven for thinking you’re strolling through a slot machine. Wear a headset, and you are transported to Vegas-style worlds populated by armor-clad knights battling robots under limitless skies.

The virtual-reality installations are sponsored by Visit Las Vegas, the city's marketing arm, to promote tourism. For Winkelmann, designing virtual-reality environments are the next digital frontier for artists, and they’re only gaining in popularity.

“We have software now that opens up new possibilities to build an immersive experience,” Winkelmann says. “If you haven’t tried it, you won’t get it, but once you wear the headset, you see everything.”

The idea of exploring new boundaries attracted Miami Beach artist Felice Grodin to “Invasive Species,” her augmented-reality project with the Perez Art Museum Miami. Using augmented-reality tech, Grodin has laid a pair of three-dimensional, computer-generated sculptures over the museum’s architecture. “Terrafish,” which depicts a translucent body of a jellyfish species she invented, overlaps PAMM’s hanging gardens on the waterfront terrace. “Mezzbug,” meanwhile, depicts a buglike creature superimposed over the museum’s first-floor theater. Grodin imagines “Terrafish” will take over South Florida’s ecosystem within a few centuries due to rising sea levels.

“We wanted to delve into issues of climate change and adaptation,” Grodin says. “AR is a fascinating art form, and I love how the PAMM is elevating it to the level of other visual arts with this show.”

To see Grodin’s augmented-reality visuals, visitors must download the PAMM smartphone app (Apple iOS devices only) and navigate to Grodin’s page. From there, they must activate their phones’ rear cameras to see the artist’s digital works laid over real life.

Two other virtual-reality exhibitions also debuted this week: “Jacob Fellander: How To Unlock a Portal,” featuring a collection of mixed-media prints created by blending virtual-reality environments, oils pastels and charcoal; and “Sandu Darie: An Immersive Experience,” which use Microsoft HoloLens virtual-reality headsets to present public works that are permanently on display in Cuba.

“Las Vegas: Alter Your Reality” is on view 1-9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 7 through Saturday, Dec. 9, at Zadok Art Gallery, 2534 N. Miami Ave., in Miami. Admission is free. Call 305-438-3737.

“Jacob Fellander: How To Unlock a Portal” is on view 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 7, and Friday, Dec. 8; 1-9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9; and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 10, at the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, 770 NE 125th St. Admission costs $5. Call 305-893-6211 or go to MocaNoMi.org.

“Felice Grodin: Invasive Species” is on view 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 7, and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 8, through Sunday, Dec. 10, at Perez Art Museum Miami, 1103 Biscayne Blvd. Admission is $12-$16, and free Dec. 7 and Dec. 9. Call 305-375-3000 or go to PAMM.org.

“Sandu Darie: An Immersive Experience” is on view 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 7, through Sunday, Dec. 10, at CIFO Art Space, 1018 N. Miami Ave., in Miami. Admission is free. Call 305-455-3333 or go to CIFO.org.

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