Step into an alternate art world reality…

New XR apps and platforms are helping to project art into the home, says Francesca Gavin

KAWS, Companion (Expanded) in London, 2020, augmented reality
KAWS, Companion (Expanded) in London, 2020, augmented reality | Image: Courtesy of the artist and Acute Art

May and June are usually the height of the art season, with Frieze New York and Art Basel, and this year’s Manifesta biennial in Marseille and RIBOCA2 in Riga. But while the market grapples with our new at-home, socially distanced existence, technology is stepping in with alternative propositions to experience and purchase art. 

The companies and galleries embracing extended reality (XR) through virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology have high hopes of its potential – perhaps more ambitious than it can deliver, but intriguing nonetheless. Normally, those who want to play with VR need to have headsets – from the disappointing Google Cardboard to the well-established Oculus Quest and high-performance Valve Index – but not with these. AR is accessible via phone apps. Either way, a flurry of projects are emerging that hope to capture the attention of art lovers, and take them into new worlds.

Searching For Authenticity, 2018, by Grayson Perry
Searching For Authenticity, 2018, by Grayson Perry | Image: Courtesy of the artist and Victoria Miro

Vortic Collect app

Gallerist Victoria Miro’s son Oliver pushed forward the launch of his XR platform for galleries in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis. “Working in a gallery sales team for nearly a decade really highlighted the need for an advancement in digital technologies. I had seen the hard work and effort that goes into putting on an exhibition, and I thought it was such a shame that, after all of that, the show comes down after a few weeks,” Miro explains. “I wanted to create a way of archiving shows that meant they could be experienced again far into the future.”

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His VR platform (part of the overarching platform Vortic, which includes a CMS for galleries to create content and two apps) allows collectors to view international shows from a range of galleries, while “the AR functionality enables collectors to explore what prospective acquisitions will look like in-situ and to scale in their homes using the camera on their smartphone,” says Miro. Sculpture, ceramics and installations, which have traditionally struggled when only seen as jpeg files on tablets and computers, promise to thrive here. As Miro observes, “Collectors I’ve spoken with mentioned that it was really the first time they felt entirely comfortable making online purchasing decisions for sculptures priced £200,000 plus.” The first part of the platform launches on 15 May with a co-presentation by David Zwirner and Victoria Miro – a beginning as ambitious as the technology itself. vorticxr.com

Installation view of Beside Itself, created in HWVR, picturing Luchita Hurtado’s Face For Arcimboldo, 1973
Installation view of Beside Itself, created in HWVR, picturing Luchita Hurtado’s Face For Arcimboldo, 1973 | Image: Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth

HWVR

Hauser & Wirth’s forthcoming art complex on Menorca is one of the most anticipated launches of 2021. To keep momentum up, the gallery has launched a digital HWVR (Hauser Wirth Virtual Reality) exhibition in a recreation of the space online.

Beside Itself can be explored on the gallery’s website rather like a computer game, with viewers able to move in and out of three-dimensional spaces and see works by artists including Roni Horn, Ellen Gallagher and Mark Bradford. Although intended to be explored with a VR headset, the project also works on computer or smartphone screens. It has been launched under ArtLab, Hauser & Wirth’s new research and innovation arm, which also intends to hold a digital residency programme in Los Angeles. “The combination of technology and our artists’ imaginations will be a powerful driver of innovation,” says Iwan Wirth.

He also sees digital spaces as providing opportunity for collectors. “The major advantage is that collectors can view the exhibition on their own terms, and in their own time.” Upcoming projects include a two-person digital show with the work of Arshile Gorky and Jack Whitten.

“Our starting point was to make planning exhibitions more sustainable by helping our artists to visualise the exhibition spaces – the potential is limitless,” he continues. “We can bring together works to build exhibitions from pixel level up in spaces which do not exist in real life.” hauserwirth.com

Manuel Rossner, Surprisingly Green, 2020, digital object
Manuel Rossner, Surprisingly Green, 2020, digital object | Image: Courtesy of the artist and König Galerie

König Galerie: The Artist Is Online

Gallerist Johann König took a fresh route with his 3D app exhibition series for the König Galerie titled The Artist is Online, starting with artist Manuel Rossner’s digital recreation of König’s concrete church HQ in Berlin, Surprisingly This Rather Works

“Rossner’s model is a ‘real’ virtual space that is created digitally,” says König. “The job of us curators, Anika Meier and myself, was to think about a concept for the space with Rossner. Rules that normally apply in exhibition spaces have been suspended in this digital environment. We asked ourselves, what can art be in the digital age? How can it be experienced?” The result is Rossner’s app-based show, where visitors can see digital objects in a space inspired partly by the 1990s game show American Gladiators and partly by “gyms” used in artificial intelligence. König was inspired by the possibilities of digital to defy the rules of physical space. Here, a treadmill breaks through the floor, while a huge yellow sculpture sprawls through the stairwell up to the church tower.

In Claudia Comte’s upcoming digital show, “the digital art experience is not supposed to replace the analogue art experience,” König notes. “We want to use the expanded virtual space to show art.” The König Galerie app is available free in the iTunes app store. Tours of the gallery are available on the website, koeniggalerie.com.

KAWS, The Return, 2020, augmented reality
KAWS, The Return, 2020, augmented reality | Image: Courtesy of the artist and Acute Art

Acute Art

In early 2019, Daniel Birnbaum, the director of Moderna Museet in Stockholm, notoriously quit to head up VR art company Acute Art. Commissions from artists including Antony Gormley and Norwegian artist Bjarne Melgaard followed, but Acute really found its footing with its recent AR project Expanded Holiday by KAWS. The artist’s AR works, via the Acute app, can be placed, viewed and captured in real space. In a collaboration with Frieze (available until 15 May), Acute Art is also showing Bjarne Melgaard’s VR work My Trip, 2019 in 2D, which viewers can see using a desktop computer or smartphone.

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“We are at the beginning of an era in which new immersive technologies will transform the art world and perhaps the market too,” Birnbaum enthuses. “KAWS recently developed a participatory AR project that has already reached a larger and younger audience than any exhibition I have curated, including the Venice Biennale.” In Birnbaum’s eyes at least, we are at the crux on a new art frontier. acuteart.com

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