A new virtual art gallery displays works by the painters Caravaggio, Manet, Cezanne, Van Gogh and Rembrandt that you won’t easily see in a real museum.
That’s because the five paintings in question were famously stolen from museums around the world, their current whereabouts unknown. But with a new app called The Stolen Art Gallery, art lovers can get a closer look at digitized versions of the paintings with a Meta Quest headset and hear spoken descriptions of the works (similar to a museum walk) through a virtual watch.
The app, from a Brazilian technology company Compass UOLis also available for iOS and Android smartphones, but the VR headset best immerses viewers in a sparse, dark gallery where they can have the somewhat eerie experience of actually approaching the paintings, possibly collaborating with friends or others in the same virtual session.
“When we initially thought about the environment of the museum, we thought about building something that resembles a typical museum: a chic building with a lot of content around the artworks,” said Compass CEO and co-founder Alexis Rockenbach. “In the end we took a very different approach, a minimalist approach, where you are in this dark space where the only thing you really pay attention to is the artwork.”
The virtual experience offers some advantages over a real museum. Users can “stand” much closer to a painting than in real life, and can make notes and sketches for others to see. There are also no crowds or other distractions from the works themselves, and the gallery can be viewed anytime, anywhere.
“Exploring things that help you interact with other people on that particular element that can’t be done in the physical world might be the most interesting thing we’ll see coming,” Rockenbach says.
But since people have always flocked to museums and galleries to view works that are widely reproduced in print and online, it seems unlikely that virtual galleries will replace real-life museums any time soon.
The purpose of the app, which Rockenbach says will be kept free, was to explore ways in which VR and much-vaunted metaverse technology can be used in everyday life. The five artworks were selected after quite a bit of consultation with art experts, he says, and the same kinds of experiences could also be extended to virtual classes.
“We’re really trying to use this to expand the idea of what the metaverse is,” he says.