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Let’s Get Virtual! VR Innovations Bridge Fine Arts & Technology

Delving deep into the implications of emerging business trends may appear to be a complicated process, but Dan Loney and the rest of the team at [email protected] make it seem like a walk in the park. Spanning such diverse topics as the intersections of urban planning, global policy, and culture with the business sector, [email protected] takes a strategic approach to investigating all aspects of today’s ever-changing business climate.

On May 22, Orangenius Founder/CEO Grace Cho and fellow guest, assistant director of art and design at North Carolina State University Professor Todd Berreth, sat down with program host Dan Loney and [email protected] Team to discuss the how Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and other technological breakthroughs impact the fine arts sector. Below is an excerpt from this compelling conversation, with credit due to Sirius XM radio and [email protected] for capturing the live discussion.

VR, Art and Art Collecting: An Emerging Pairing

[email protected] – So Todd, what is the impact that VR and AR are having right now in the art world?

TB – First I’d like to place VR and AR into context (for the listener). Many people know that VR is an entirely digitally mediated reality versus our real world, and VR isn’t just these platforms we hear about, such Oculus Rift, it’s actually something that has been going on in the art world for decades now. We are currently in this third wave of VR, which has been enabled by these new platforms coming out online. This technology is something that’s been around in the art world especially since the 1990s – there’s a lot of artists building these immersive experiences that are transcendent and can extend the artists’ creativity in incredibly powerful ways.

[email protected] – Grace, how are you starting to see this be an effective tool in the art world?

GC – We are really excited about both VR and AR, as these are new ways to showcase and experience. Most important, it’s also a new way to sell art both in the gallery space and in the app (for iPhone). It is a wonderful way to make the connection between the artist and the fan: it’s the next best thing to actually being there (next to an artist’s work). It allows art to travel in a way that you don’t have to physically be in that space, and that’s actually very powerful.

[email protected] – I would guess part of the acceptance and success of VR and AR in the art world as we move forward is the fact that these are technologies that seemingly more people in the general public have an understanding of. Does this create a connection that helps artists moving forward, Todd?

TB – Totally. This understanding adds more exposure, similar to the early 1990s when internet art became a phenomenon and suddenly artists had access to huge populations and were not [forced to] have their work be necessarily mediated by cultural institutions that controlled access to their art. I think that’s entirely liberating and that these VR platforms are especially effective because easier to develop on these days.

One common example is that Google produced, Tiltbrush, where artists can paint in 3D. This and gaming platforms like Unity or Unreal allow people to develop 3-D experiences with tools that people can learn on in a short amount of time. VR as a technology has become accessible in a way that in the past it hasn’t been. Previously artists weren’t able to produce this type of work unless they had technical access to teams that could help them. The confluence of all these things together has really allowed this to start happening.

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Artists will be the stewards of emerging technology as they continue to incorporate these methods into their practice.

[email protected] – So, Grace, I would think this is an interesting time, then, for art. This (technology) feels like a new component.

Grace – It is! There’s a natural tension between art and technology; however, there are two cases in which we’ve applied it both on the gallery side. On the one hand, we go in and we do a VR film of an art exhibition. There are two benefits to that: the first is that people who are not close to the gallery can experience the work. You can make this video go viral and reach clientele across the world! Galleries have done this, and without even leaving the country they’ve extended the reach of their exhibit globally. Secondly, when the gallery ends the exhibit, the exhibit lives on in this VR mode, and that realistic experience continues. This is an additional selling opportunity for the gallery. That’s the VR experience from a gallery standpoint.

From a consumer standpoint, we’ve developed an app – an initiative which some furniture sellers have done, and which we’ve extended to the art world. Someone can take a picture of their wall and then select an artwork from the Orangenius platform, click on it, and the app automatically sizes the proportions of the wall to the size of the painting. The app also adjusts the lighting so that you can actually see your wall with the painting on it. So this is a “try before you buy” approach for the collector/artist. This very powerful concept allows an extended reach, and also gives a more detailed experience of the artwork because by clicking on the art link in the app it connects you to the information on the Orangenius platform where you have access to all details of the artwork as well as knowledge about the artist.

[email protected] – And by having it on the app it allows everyone who downloads the app to be able to take advantage of these types of opportunities.

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GC – Correct, and that’s the exciting point about the e-commerce side. I have to tell you from a philanthropic side we are also very excited about these capabilities because we want to bring art to those who can’t travel, such as children, the elderly, and the differently abled. there are great art sites around the world, and Google has already had a hand in generating this, but the notion that we can bring some of these art events to people who cannot travel is a powerful one and we would love to build up our library that way.

Improving How Artists Grow Business

[email protected] – Todd, Do you expect these technologies to be a tool of growth for artists on the business side moving forward?

TB – I’d have to imagine it’s a natural evolution of how we are implementing this tech into our world: it’s becoming the air we breathe and, by default, the way artists breathe. It’s how we all connect and communicate with each other, in this middle ground of mixed reality that we are inhabiting. How we live our lives is all-consuming in some ways, and artists have to take advantage of this. Artists generally have tackled tech and pushed its limits. I think of artists in general – one of their key roles is not as consumer or developer on these platforms but, in effect, their role is to hack or break apart these platforms. Artists find new limits and new ways to hybridize and extend (this technology). We need artists to get in and challenge these platforms and in some ways our responsibility in an Art & Design department we teach our students that it’s their responsibility to be leaders in invention and pushing this technology forward.

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VR is increasingly impacting the art world.

[email protected] – Well, how much of this that we are speaking of is being discussed at the college level? Is this an added component of a college education for students to prepare for when they move into the biz world?

TB – Totally, in our school, we are working to have more and more experiences for our students that mix artists, designers, and tech developers together in one single class. This is how people function in the business world, and how companies integrate into a common vision and in seamless ways. This is important: that artists become technologists and be comfortable with engineering because each discipline pushes each other forward. This tension is productive, and we see in our business culture that this innovation is happening at so many companies is fueled by [this].

[email protected] – Grace, how is the art world going to change, develop and realistically grow in next several decades? Is it progressing the way will it transform, moving into how it may be in the year 2050?

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GC – Yes, and the main part of our goal is to democratize art. The way that millennials experience art is different from older generations. One concept that we’re launching is the notion of a Virtual Art Fair. If you think about it, art fairs in past few years have become a place to go to experience art – but not every city has one. Our Virtual Art Fair concept using VR and AR technology will bring art to masses and allow them to learn about the art world in a new way. We’re very excited about that.

[email protected] – How will these types of events play out, and how do you envision them being able to connect because of this new technology and the abilities and new initiatives we are discussing today?

GC  – Sure… social media is important, as in this case, you build this destination website with the Virtual Art Fair. We want galleries to embrace this technology as well as fair organizers so we can bring their art and the fair to a greater number of folks. Generally, the art world has not necessarily been open to new types of technology in past. In this case, they have an opportunity to extend their range of fans in the art world and increase market size in a way they haven’t done before.

[email protected] – How can this tech impact museums of art like in Philadelphia, New York City, and other places across the world?

GC: Some museums have VR and AR initiatives, but it’s not enough. They need to get current. There are companies like ours out there to make this more available. Some larger institutions have already done this type of work, but they can surely do a lot more.

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About the author

Audra Lambert

Audra Lambert is an independent curator and art critic based in New York, NY. The founder of Antecedent Projects (2014), a sustainable urban curatorial consultancy investigating site-specific heritage, and is Editor-in-Chief, ANTE. Mag. Lambert manages ART360 by Orangenius, an immersive, 3-D art viewing experience, and serves as Managing Editor, Artrepreneur.

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