Darkness prevails in the Stolen Art Gallery, with a night sky above pierced by double skylights that passively illuminate the room. You can’t see the walls, because there are no walls. You cannot see your feet, because you have no feet. All you can see, other than the directional panel in the middle of the gallery, is a semicircle of five panels floating in black space. They aren’t there either, of course. They were all stolen decades ago.
Reconnecting with these lost works is the foundation of The Stolen Art Gallery, an immersive virtual reality (VR) experience designed by Compass UOL It is accessed through the MetaQuest 2 headset. Although the company considers itself the first Metaverse museum, it is actually not the first virtual museum. Stolen Art Gallery — but it’s definitely a refinement from previous iterations of the idea, and is probably the first idea to allow users to meet in the Meta-space while viewing stolen artwork long lost to the public.
The exhibition presents “The Nativity of Caravaggio with Saint Francis and Saint Lawrence” (1609), which was stolen from a chapel in Sicily in 1969; Rembrandt’s only seascape, “Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee” (1633); and “Chez Tortoni” (circa 1875) by Edouard Manet – both taken from the Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990 in One of the most famous art thefts in modern history. There is also Cézanne’s “View of Auvers-sur-Oise” (1879-1880), taken from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford; Finally, there is Vincent van Gogh’s “Poppy Flowers” (1887), which was stolen in 1977 from the Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum in Cairo, recovered in Kuwait a decade later, and then stolen again in 2010.
“We have selected five related masterpieces by famous painters that have been out of public reach for a long time,” said Alexis Rockenbach, CEO of Compass UOL in an email interview. The team hopes to add other works to the gallery, as well as interactive features that can take users to “more realistic levels of immersive people experience within the metaverse.”
Here are some of the things you can do in the Stolen Art Gallery: Customize your avatar; Go straight to the board and stick your face to it (or through!); recall and decline detailed label information without bowing to a small wall sign; You hear superimposed audio flowing directly into your mind via the mysterious Oculus technology, which puts you on a ship at sea or in a crowded coffee shop, depending on what you’re looking at; use a set of hand pens to write letters in the air, or temporarily desecrate paintings; Send small streams of approval emojis from your gadget clock to the air (presumably to appeal to other gallery visitors, who haven’t been there during the times I’ve visited), and use a selfie stick to take pictures.
Here are some of the things you can’t do at the Stolen Art Gallery: Learn about the quality of paint on canvas; Listen to the funny dialogues between children who are dragged into the museum on a school field trip; Take photos other than selfies; Take notes outside the application; And appreciate the brushstroke details. The VR visuals are amazing, and there’s an undeniably immersive quality to all the experiences within this realm (I’ve also toured reefs and danced with a robot in unrelated apps) – but it doesn’t feel like an alternative activity to seeing a work of art in person, or even looking at High quality hard copy. It’s weird, funny and interactive, but it’s not the same.
“The gallery’s artistic perception is designed to give the pieces of art more importance than the exhibition itself, so the environment and lighting give focus and importance only to the pieces, with no other points of distraction,” said Rockenbach. “To represent business images, we used images captured in high resolution so that the experience is as realistic as possible.”
This is probably due to the quality of the internet connection, so my default experience is likely to be less focused than it should have been, but I haven’t been able to glean the level of detail that the face-to-face provides, or even a consistent high level of image quality. However, the point being made in this case is that you can’t see the artwork in person, so creating an immersive virtual reality scenario is a very fun way to look at the long-lost artwork. Certainly, this is no more or less a departure from any number of “immersive” exhibits that are popular at the moment, and benefit from light projections and audio accompaniment – although the pricing on MetaQuest 2 is a bit trickier (when not provided by a gallery, as it was in my case).
I felt that the Stolen Art Gallery is not a vanguard for the Museum of the Future, but rather a showcase of ways to create dynamic shared experiences in virtual reality. And of course, it has the distinct advantage of enabling the arts writer to be in attendance without having to wear pants, virtual or otherwise.