An Instagram-Ready Immersive Museum Uses Braille. But Is It Accessible?

While he was settling into Manhattan after moving from Israel in 2004, the 24-year-old artist Roy Nachum decided to contend with a second challenge: Inspired by his grandmother who had lost her sight, and in search of new inspiration for his artwork, he blindfolded himself. For the next 168 hours, he felt his way around his apartment in the East Village and used a cane to navigate to and from the nearby grocery store.

That experience of being engulfed in the sounds and the chaos of a new city helped inspire the exhibits in his new immersive installation, Mercer Labs. It opened for previews in January at a 36,000-square-foot space in a sleek, Brutalist-style building at 21 Dey Street — the site of the former Century 21 department store.

Nachum, whose artwork often incorporates Braille, became renowned for designing the Grammy-nominated cover for Rihanna’s album “Anti,” featuring a photo of Rihanna as a child wearing a gold crown embossed with Braille. He and the real estate developer Michael Cayre founded Mercer Labs with an ambitious mandate: to be a “place where the traditional hierarchies between art, architecture, design, technology and culture are dissolved,” and where “diversity and inclusion are celebrated,” according to a news release. The site is expected to open officially on March 28.

One of Roy Nachum’s signature designs is this cover image for Rihanna’s 2016 album, “Anti,” which features a photo of her as a child wearing a gold crown embossed with Braille.

The founders advertise Mercer Labs as a “museum of art and technology.” At the moment, it contains 14 exhibition spaces that use high-tech projectors, digital screens, LED lights and sound systems to display Nachum’s perception-teasing creations. Some exhibits feature Braille, tactile displays and immersive sounds intended for blind and low-vision visitors as well as sighted ones. In one of the rooms, attendees with vision can don sleeping masks and listen to a set of immersive sounds, the better to understand Nachum’s experiences from 2004 with touch and navigation. In still another space, guests stroll through a cave covered with pink hydrangeas that can be explored through touch.

Nachum’s installations are on view at the moment, but when Mercer Labs officially opens in March, Nachum and Cayre intend for it to become a multipurpose site, with exhibitions by other artists, musicians and even actors; event spaces that can be rented for private use; and displays spotlighting fashion brands as well as up-and-coming New York companies. They would not elaborate on which specific brands or artists they have partnered with, citing nondisclosure agreements.

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