AR in Museums

This is an excerpt from my new book, CONVERGENCE, HOW THE WORLD WILL BE PAINTED WITH DATA. This piece is contributed by Neal Stimler.

Art Gallery visitors using ARtGlass. Photo courtesy of ARtGlass

Introduction

Works of art in museums are among humanity’s most creative, compelling and often complex creations. Interpretative tools such as descriptive wall labels, brochures, audio guides, websites, and mobile applications have all been used by art museums to deepen engagement and education. These tools are provided to foster greater possibility to discover an artwork’s meanings and resonant impact. It, therefore, follows that art museums have been among the first public institutions to find a practical application for AR to enhance understanding and deepen engagement.

The smartphone, which every visitor has in their hands, is the easiest means of engagement. Older audio and early mobile tour products are in many cases now obsolete and unattractive to users. Perhaps the greatest obstacle to Augmented Reality’s success for art museums comes from art museums themselves. Art museums often grapple with innovation while deeply considering tradition. Museum directors, boards and executive leadership need to be more adaptive and less reactive to change.

Indeed, it takes some will for a decidedly non-technical specialty like art curation to realize the benefits of new AR technology to achieve its goals, which those on the cutting edge have learned can be accomplished more cheaply and effectively with mobile AR. By telling their stories, we hope others will be encouraged to embrace the positive benefit AR can bring to the exhibition and understanding of fine art.

Q&A with Art Museum Industry Leaders

Key art museum industry leaders thoughtfully share how AR improves both aesthetic and business aspects of the customer experience at art museums:

“Augmented Reality is the technological gift that art interpretation has been waiting for, a convergence of many technologies seemingly in pursuit of creating the ultimate tool for an elegant and unencumbered interpretive interaction. AR has the ability to resonate one’s understanding, appreciation and insight into a work of art — a visual and aural feast to consume as one contemplates it.” Nik Honeysett, CEO, Balboa Park Online Collaborative, told me in a recent email exchange.

“Augmented Reality has created a new ‘lens’ for discovery, deeper inquiry, and enjoyment of art and culture. Museums are on a continuous search for new ways to engage their visitors, and technologies like Augmented Reality add to their arsenal of educational and storytelling tools,” notes Brendan Cieko, CEO, Cuseum, a developer of an AR platform for museums, public attractions, and cultural nonprofits. In a comprehensive on-site evaluation conducted by Cuseum in the summer of 2018, approximately 90% of participants claimed that AR enhanced their experience, and made it easier to access information.

“AR simulates to the experience of moving around an actual physical object — the viewer being able to move in, perhaps, for a much closer examination of a work of art than if they had visited the real thing in a museum where artworks often sit within a glass case or behind a roped off area. This might be considered a more intimate experience, especially when combined with the ability to set up a virtual exhibit in one’s own living room, far from the large crowds that are becoming common at ‘blockbuster’ museum exhibits. AR gives us the ability to transplant an artwork out of a gallery or museum, putting it in a new context,” said Thomas Flynn, Cultural Heritage Lead, Sketchfab.

“There are a number of creative ways to improve user experiences with AR such as sharing works that are missing from a collection, whether they are in another museum, being restored, or on loan; comparing works to previous versions, other artists, or to the artist’s preliminary sketch; rebuilding archaeological monuments or recreating interior decors on the sites where they formerly existed,” said David Lerman, CEO of GuidiGO .

Use Cases

ARtGlass

ARtGlass provides a wearable ARexperience for customers through a heads-up display and attached control pad. ARtGlass’ wearable approach is a distinguishing form factor from other handheld solutions on the market. The company is focused on art galleries, historic architecture, and cultural heritage sites.

The Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA)

The Cleveland Museum of Art’s ArtLens App includes every object on view in the museum. The “Scan” feature in the app seamlessly recognizes a selection of two-dimensional artworks throughout the museum and provides additional curatorial and interpretive content (including video) about the artwork. Scanning provides visitors with facts about each piece as the user looks closely at the artwork. CMA’s AR feature was one of the first and most prominent examples of AR in an art museum.

View of ArtsLens App with Caravaggio’s “The Crucifixion of Saint Andrews” at The Cleveland Museum of Art. Courtesy of fusion filmworks.

Cuseum

Cuseum is a Boston based technology company that works in partnership to accelerate museum engagement with a variety of applications and services, including AR. Cuseum has worked with art museums to deliver AR exhibitions, bringing new art experiences to the public developed in close collaboration with host institutions such as the Pérez Art Museum Miami and MAK Austrian Museum of Applied Arts.

Felice Grodin. “Terrafish.” Invasive Species. 2017. Pérez Art Museum Miami. Courtesy of Cuseum.

GuidiGO

GuidiGO inspires people to connect with art and culture with its AR-enabled mobile tours and digital games. It has an AR Composer tool for its clients to make AR tours using a proprietary content management system. GuidiGO emphasizes that AR experiences need to be easy to understand, seamlessly blend the digital and physical, and scale to life. The company has had notable success in the United States and internationally with award-winning projects done in collaboration with the Detroit Institute of Arts, and the Clifford Still Museum in Denver, Colorado.

Cylinder Seal AR interaction from “Lumin Project” at the Detroit Institute of Arts. 2017. Courtesy of Guidigo.

Guru

Guru seeks to provide deeper layers of learning and create opportunities to increase revenue and drive efficiency with an eye towards innovation and a return on investment for clients. Guru has done over 100 Augmented Reality experiences. Their clients include the San Diego Museum of Art.

Guru’s AR app guides a user through Bernardo Bellotto’s scene of Venice from ca. 1740, in the collection of the San Diego Museum of Art. Courtesy of Guru.

Sketchfab

Sketchfab is the largest platform to publish and find AR art museum content online. As more museums begin to use photogrammetry and 3D models of their collections, platforms like Sketchfab, and Instamusem, will be more relevant for art museums and user communities to make, share and produce 3D content and experiences together.

After Leochares. “Apollo Belvedere.” 3D Model of Plaster Cast. The Royal Cast Collection at SMK — National Gallery of Denmark. KAS353. Via Sketchfab. CC BY 4.0.

Smartify

Smartify uses AR to provide image recognition and additional information around an artwork. Users can also save and “favorite” their own selection of artworks within the application. Smartify incorporates images and data from Open Access museum collections and also partners with institutions like The Royal Academy and National Portrait Gallery in London.

Gallery View of Room 4. “Early Stuart Britain.” at The National Portrait Gallery, London, with the Smartify App and its AR technology. Courtesy of Smartify.