Virtual Reality Entering The Artistic Sphere
By Emma Epperly
Museums are never just about what’s being displayed. Exhibits are created with attention to detail and intention in every single item in the space. The completely white gallery space that is portrayed in the movies is a common choice because it allows patrons to view just the art pieces without having their surroundings contribute to the experience. Yet, this lack of color surrounding art is in fact a huge part of the experience. When you enter the space, you lose the stimulation from the surrounding world, allowing yourself to be immersed in the artwork.
This is true for any artistic display space. The architecture of the area plays a role in your experience. If you’re in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., this premise is clearly visible. The West building houses European art from the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries as well as American art and rotating exhibits. The building has tall intricate ceilings and long hallways with small connected side rooms that are used as exhibition spaces. At the end of each massive hall is a greenhouse or garden space.
When viewing this art, you are immersed in an architectural atmosphere that aligns with the artwork you are viewing. While the architecture and art may not connect historically for the modern day visitor, the atmosphere is intoxicating. The building contributes to the affect the art has on the viewer. The East building mainly displays modern art. In the main atrium vaulted ceilings with massive windows allow for natural light and a space to display large scale sculpture. There are some rooms that are large white spaces, while others like the two towers on either side of the building push patrons up into smaller more individualized and immersive viewing experiences.
You see art cannot be separated from how it is viewed,
As new technologies are constantly being developed, so are new types of artwork. Virtual reality has become a major part of not only modern artistic expression but also of the architecture surrounding a viewer’s experience. Galleries can now be viewed as 3-D walkthroughs. Google has worked with several museums to create a more immersive online viewing experience. The Dulwich Picture Gallery in London, BOZAR in Brussels and other museums have begun to use this technology. The Renwick Gallery in Washington DC released a virtual reality rendering of its WONDER exhibit. By downloading the app, “WONDER 360” users can view the 2015 through 2016 exhibit. While these online experiences do their best to recreate the total package of viewing art in a curated museum space, they inevitably fall short with high quality VR viewing technology being expensive.
Museums have begun using VR inside their exhibits as well. The Jewish Museum in New York features VR in its Pierre Chareau: Modern Architecture and Design exhibit. Architecture has long been seen as an art form in itself and this exhibit seeks to acknowledge this by using VR to transport patrons to the designer’s Parisian studio. Actual pieces designed by Chareau are also present in the museum. This is an example of technology advancing the principle that in order to fully experience art the display space must contribute.
VR projects are featured as art exhibits themselves in many museums. Ian Cheng has an exhibition at MoMA PS1 that features one of his simulations on the Oculus Rift from 2013. Jordan Wolfson has a virtual reality project featured in the Whitney Biennial.
TIME produced a piece about seven artists who used Google’s Tilt Brush to create art in a virtual space. These artists were all experimenting with this new art form. With this software, art can be created in a three dimensional space where the artist can walk through or around their brushstrokes and see their piece from every angle. This in turn means that patrons would be able to experience this art in the same three dimensional space.
Art is not just about the piece, it is about your experience with the work, and its surroundings play a huge role in that experience. Art is being created in virtual reality that includes that immersive experience museum curators are always seeking to provide. Now curators are looking to VR to enhance the immersive experience they’re offering of past works. Some companies are scrapping the museum all together and heading toward VR tours of museum spaces. Ultimately, it is yet to be seen how exactly VR will fit into the art world in the future, but it has a place there, that is for certain.