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Exhibiting Paintings in Augmented Reality: “Still & Art” at the Clyfford Still Museum

For the new exhibition Still & Art, the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver combines the display of Still’s artworks with digital reproductions of other artists’ works using augmented reality. Using an app designed by GuidiGO, through a partnership with Google and RYOT, the Museum offers the opportunity for visitors to compare and contrast Still’s works with virtual paintings from museums across the world, such as Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa or Van Gogh’s Starry Night, as if they were also hanging on the gallery walls.

clyfford still vs gericault

The use of augmented reality paintings in this exhibition is a creative solution to the fact that most of the selected virtual artworks would have been difficult, if not impossible, to borrow. Works by da Vinci and de Kooning are thus accessible in the galleries, as digital facsimiles.

Unlike traditional digital tours, this augmented reality experience doesn’t provide interpretation material about the artworks on display. Rather, the digital content is an integral part of the exhibition itself. The augmented reality assets become museum objects in their own right.

© Courtesy Tara Bardeen
© Courtesy Tara Bardeen

The Visitor Experience

The digital aspect of the exhibition experience is integrated simply and effectively into the visit. Prior to entering the galleries, visitors are equipped with Lenovo Phab 2 Pro devices. As they walk through the exhibition, which is spread out over the nine galleries of the Museum, they are notified about the presence of virtual artworks by a message on their devices.

clyfford-still-notification

Visitors are free to explore the galleries, finding the virtual artworks and comparing them to the physical ones. What is so unique about this experience is that the physical setting was designed with the digital components in mind right from the get go: there are blank spaces on the gallery walls with a text that lets visitors know that virtual works will appear when they look through their tablets. These walls are only populated when the virtual artworks are displayed in AR in real size. No markers, iBeacons, or WIFI are needed as the devices recognize the space using Google’s VPS (Visual Positioning Service) announced at Google I/O in May.

The high resolution digital reproductions allow visitors to explore the virtual paintings, discovering the vibrant details of texture and color, as if the paintings were physically in the gallery. Visitors can get extremely close to these virtual works (closer than would be allowed with real paintings), examining Van Gogh’s bold brushstrokes or Rauschenberg’s monochromatic topographies.

clyfford still AR closeup

How the AR Experience Was Created

The creation of the digital component of the experience involved a collaboration between the Museum and GuidiGO to create high resolution 3D models of different paintings to be virtually hung on the gallery walls.

Google’s augmented reality team came to set up the VPS (Visual Positioning Service) by mapping the galleries. This allows the devices to recognize where they are in the museum space, which makes possible the placement and display of virtual objects. The Clyfford Still Museum is among the first 10 museums in the world to have embraced VPS technology to enable accurately prepositioned, life-size AR experiences.

After this step, GuidiGO’s team came on-site to place the virtual paintings on the walls using GuidiGO’s AR Composer, an application we developed to manipulate 3D objects and place them in mapped spaces. In the Clyfford Still Museum, this meant hanging the virtual paintings so they fit perfectly with the real artworks on the walls.

GuidiGO-AR-Composer-app

GuidiGO’s AR Composer was also used to delineate the museum space into unique sections. This step made it so that when visitors are in a gallery, they only see the artworks on display in that gallery. This avoids the artworks of the galleries nearby being visible “through the walls” due to the occlusion effect, as virtual objects will always appear in front of real objects on the screen.

The result is a seamless experience where visitors are engaged in a new kind of visit in which real and virtual complement each other. AR becomes social when groups of visitors see the same thing at the same time, sparking interesting dialogues and shared ‘wow’ moments.

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The exhibition “Still & Art” is generously supported in part by Daniel Benel and Lena Fishman. Additional support is provided by U.S. Bank and the citizens who support the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD). The augmented reality experience is made possible at the Clyfford Still Museum through a partnership with Google and media company RYOT.

© Featured Image courtesy Clyfford Still Museum

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