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Art, Virtual Reality & Kerry James Marshall 

While fashion increasingly embraces augmented/virtual reality (both W Magazine and Self Service included enhanced experiences with recent issues), the art world is starting to look for ways to leverage the technology.
Imagine if art enthusiasts could view an exhibition of the Whitney Biennial in New York, the Dior show in Paris or visit the Yayoi Kusama Museum in Tokyo from anywhere in the world. Launching this week, VR't Ventures was created to document and bring art to a broader audience. The idea of taking advantage of augmented reality came to innovator Jacob Koo for the following reasons:
  • "There are too many wonderful art exhibitions around the world in any calendar year, and it is logistically or financially impossible or improbable to see all of them."
  • "Curators can spend over 5 years preparing an exhibition that we will be shown for no longer than 4 months and then it's gone forever. These approximately 80 works will never be together again.  And in the past, all that would be left of a great museum exhibition is a book commemorating the event."
  • "Museum exhibitions are like music albums; music albums are not just a random collection of songs. The artist is telling a story, just as an incredible museum exhibition has a narrative to share."
  • "Bring a simple solution for the art community to a problem that has never been addressed - deliver an understanding of art to many demographics that previously perceived art as frivolous or intimidating." 
  • "There is a strong and specific community of people who are passionate about art so this is a compelling reason for us to own virtual reality goggles."
In short the goal is to create an international virtual gallery that gives entrance to anyone across the globe, and when they achieve their goals they would be the most visited gallery anywhere.
Mr. Koo has a background is in contemporary art, design, as well as mobile technology. Of the technology Mr. Koo says “I believe that most people today have the wrong perception of virtual reality. They think of movies like the Keanu Reeves film The Matrix or more recently, HBO's series Westworld. That is way way too in the future for me. My partner and I had to come up with an application that was not just interesting but useful to a certain group of people. In our small circle of friends and contacts, virtual reality was nothing more than an interesting thought and had absolutely zero impact on everyday life.  Furthermore, there was absolutely nothing in virtual reality that we had heard of that was compelling enough for us to buy the goggles. So we decided to move forward with our idea of turning celebrated museum exhibitions into virtual reality experiences.” 
With that, the team went into development January ’17 and launched this month with the Kerry James Marshall exhibition which was and was first at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Chicago, then The Met Breuer in New York City, and then ended on July 3, 2017 at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Los Angeles where Mr. Koo and his team captured it before it disappeared. 
Mr. Koo describes the experience as not a mere 360 degree video, but a recreation of the desired effect that is required for an art show. "We did everything that we could to make the experience just like visiting the museum in reality but just in virtual reality” said Mr. Koo. Helen Molesworth, Chief Curator of MOCA, provides narration through the experience going into detail on how the room is divided and each theme. The narration was done beautifully by the Ms. Molesworth, her knowledge of the artist is quite engaging. The effect is a private tour with the curator, both entertaining and highly informative, an interaction with a curator that most may not access at a gallery show. The virtual reality experience allows a closer view to the art and lets them take their time absorbing the information in a close replication of the the actual gallery space. There are no waiting for crowds to move, the viewer can move at their own pace - and return to the exhibit in the future.
As to why launch the technology with Kerry James Marshall (one of The First Proof’s favorite artists):
  • "It's an incredible story: a young black boy realizes that he has a gift for making pictures, notices pretty clearly that black people are never ever represented in museums although the technology of painting is over 600 years old, single-handedly tries to change that narrative and 35 years later has actually succeeded."
  • "He is not just a black painter, but he is one of the finest figurative painters of this generation.  His work at auction has already commanded over US $2 million which probably makes him one of the top 0.00001% of artists in the world."
  • "His work in this exhibition is mainly figurative painting which makes it easier to explain certain ideas and concepts vs. abstract art in our VR experience, therefore truly helping to educate everyone."
  • "This exhibition is one of the best reviewed exhibitions over the past decade.  The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Los Angeles Times, etc. reviewed this exhibition so glowingly that this exhibition undoubtedly appeals to both the establishment (the currently existing art community) as well as the other demographics that we are trying to reach."
  • "Kerry James Marshall was one of Time Magazine's 100 most influential people list for 2017.”
Of the initiative Helen Molesworth says "No artificial visit to something real will ever replace the actual experience, but a VR version of a museum exhibition can allow someone who could never see the actual show to have the closest possible experience of being at the museum. We’ve seen visual technology improve exponentially over the last decade. Streaming technology and high-resolution flatscreen development is improving by the week. One can only imagine what we’ll be seeing and hearing as all this develops. I think VR may give us new archival possibilities of recording the special qualities of space, time, and movement. We could be leaving a record of what it felt like to be in the space (since traditional wide-angle installation photos tend to flatten and distort space). I also think VR may extend the longevity of the exhibition past its original appearance in the museum."

While the maximum effect can only be achieved with Samsung VR Goggles, there is a free desktop download. It is quite simple to use with only key controls for sound, resolution, narration autoplay. We can see why the VR't team pursued this initiative. Mr. Marshall now has a gallery that will live on past any physical show and the world will continue to appreciate his talents. Imagine a future where one can access a library shows that can be revisited anywhere at any time. In a few years this experience may just achieve being the ambition as the most visited gallery globally and we are looking forward to our next visit.
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