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Now take a walk through Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’

  • Augmented and mixed reality is being used by museums, galleries and entrepreneurs to change the way we experience art
  • Online art galleries and advisories like Eikowa now have visualisation tools that enable you to see how a particular work will look on the walls of your home

Visitors at the press preview of the Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ exhibition in Paris in February. Photo: Getty
Visitors at the press preview of the Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ exhibition in Paris in February. Photo: Getty

The Mauritshuis in the Netherlands, home to masterpieces from the Dutch golden age of painting, is offering a rather unique perspective on Rembrandt van Rijn. To accompany its exhibition—on show till 15 September —of 18 masterpieces by or ever attributed to the artist, including the famous The Anatomy Lesson Of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, the museum has launched the Rembrandt Reality app, which uses augmented reality (AR) to create virtual holographic projections with the camera of an Apple or Android device. Virtual objects are projected on to the physical space, allowing the viewer to immerse herself in the artwork.

“To replicate The Anatomy Lesson Of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp as realistically as possible, lookalikes of the main figures in the painting dressed up in 17th century outfits were scanned with a 3D scanner, made upof 600 reflex cameras. The original theatre in the Waag where Dr Tulp gave his anatomy lesson in 1632 was then captured with the 3D scanner. These scans were then combined, after which 3D modellers gave the figures and the space the correct colours, textures and light," mentions a note by The Mauritshuis. Art historians worked closely with the app developers to allow the user to enter an authentic version of the anatomical theatre through the app, available free of charge.

Today, AR, mixed reality and virtual reality are being used by museums, galleries and artist collectives to change the way we experience art—whether it is in the white cube space, on the street or at home. An example of this is the new digital exhibition at the Atelier des Lumières, Paris, which immerses the visitor in the paintings of Vincent van Gogh. Think of walking through landscapes and nightscapes such as Starry Night, imagined so beautifully by the artist, which are now projected on the walls and surfaces of the Atelier. On view till 31 December, the experience features visual and musical work produced by Culturespaces and directed by Gianfranco Iannuzzi, Renato Gatto and Massimiliano Siccardi.

One interesting use of AR in India can be seen in the comic-book Priya’s Shakti, which uses the technology to address issues of gender-based violence. Ram Devineni, who created the series in collaboration with artist Dan Goldman and various writers, first thought of AR while visiting the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. Each fresco told a different story but came together with the others to illuminate a wider experience. “That’s when I thought of the idea of using AR as a way to experience the real world without being removed from it. Moreover, the technology compels you to interact with your surroundings and gives an additional layer of information and a new perspective on what you see around you," he says.

While he was interviewing rape and acid attack survivors for the book, he felt it was critical to embed video interviews into it. “AR allowed me to do that. Through this, readers can experience a deeper level of storytelling and meet the women whose lives inspired the series," says Devineni. He started using AR in 2013 and is now looking at pushing the technology to the next level in the succeeding chapter of the comic-book series Priya And The Lost Girls, about sex trafficking. It will be launched on 30 November.

The visualization tool on the Eikowa website
The visualization tool on the Eikowa website

Today, technology allows you to imagine and experience art differently in your own home. For instance, Eikowa, a curated online art gallery and bespoke art advisory, uses mixed reality as its visualization tool. The feature enables you to see how a particular work will look on the walls of your home. Eikowa was started four years ago by Vaishnavi Murali, a hobby artist and an alumna of the Indian School of Business, to take affordable art to an audience beyond the metros. She started with a roster of 40 artists, which has increased to 150, and includes a variety of mediums.

“We then thought that people should be able to see the work that the artist has spent so much time creating. Each work has such texture and style that maybe just a thumbnail won’t do it justice," says Murali. Also, people would often WhatsApp images of their home and ask if the work would look good in a particular space. So, the Eikowa team started superimposing artworks on the photographed spaces and sending them back. “Every single customer loved it. The whole point of visualization is to give clarity and to help narrow down the choices. So we thought why not take this further and give the customer the power to do this on their own, without even having to ask us," says Murali.

She thought of taking the AR route but realized it had many challenges. For one, it could only be used as an app. Second, it needed some sort of markers on the walls. So she decided to use mixed with features of VR (virtual reality) and AR integrated with the website.

Launched a little more than a month ago, the visualization tool allows the customer to choose a piece of art from the inventory. The user then needs to upload an image of the space where he or she wants to display the work. “It allows you to see whether the work matches the colour of the walls, is in sync with the theme of the decor, and, importantly, what it looks like in real time," says Murali. “This is just another way of using technology to ease the life of an art enthusiast."

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