A new VR app lets users experience five of the world’s long-lost masterpieces, including works by Caravaggio and Manet

What do you get when you combine leading-edge virtual reality (VR) technology with some of the world’s missing masterpieces of art? The stolen art gallery.

In a freshly launched app the Brazilian company Compass UOL gives stolen works of art by painters such as Caravaggio, Manet, Cezanne, Van Gogh and Rembrandt a second life, in other words virtually.

The app, now available for free on iOS and Android smartphones, is best experienced through a Meta Quest VR headset, developers say.

“Initially we thought about the environment of the museum, we thought about building something akin to a typical museum: a chic building with a lot of content around the artworks,” Compass CEO and co-founder Alexis Rockenbach, told Fast company† “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 idea is that users can get an up-close look at the works, supported by audio descriptions of each, akin to having an audio guide in your pocket. A YouTube self study shows users interacting with the stolen artworks in a virtual environment not unlike a video game.

In addition, the app allows users to create notes and sketches that are visible to others.

The Stolen Art Gallery app created by Compass. Screenshot. 2022.

The app is no different than another app designed in 2018 for the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, which was the victim of one of the most famous art thefts in history. In the wee hours of March 18, 1990, thirteen works of art — including works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas and Manet, valued at more than $500 million in today’s terms — were ripped from the walls of the museum.

The robbery resulted in a number of theoriespodcastsa Netflix specialand, in 2018, an app called Hacking the Heistwhich used Augmented Reality (AR) to allow museum visitors to see and experience the stolen works in situ.

However, now that virtual reality and metaverse seem to be all the rage, Compass UOL seems to have big plans to showcase stolen artwork. Right now, only five artworks are available to view and interact with through the app, but Rockenbach says he hopes more will be added in the future.

“We’re really trying to use this to expand the idea of ​​what the metaverse is.”

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