A physical and virtual space, bridging art and people

 February 27, 2020

Photo via Kremer Museum

The development of technologies, such as augmented and virtual reality, has brought a new perspective to experiencing art. It is becoming more and more widespread also in traditional places such as museums, which are motivated more to open their doors. Experiencing art, going to museums is moving away from being a privileged and niche activity to something that is possible in a fun and innovative way.

One of such a courageous and innovative leap of faith was taken by the Kremer Museum. This privately owned museum opened its doors wide open by taking a huge step ahead, building a bridge between visitors and their collection of 17th century Dutch and Flemish art.

The innovative step the msueum and its team took, was that they made not only one piece or exhibition fully immersive through VR technology, but they created a complete VR environment for the whole museum with all its 74 masterpieces.

What makes this museum so special that it blends the physical space with the virtual sphere, bringing about the best from both realities. One can experience the VR museum from anywhere in the world - with the help of a VR headset - and not only the artworks themselves, but the whole physical museum space as well.

This also makes it possible to experience all artworks in their full details, from all angles possible, creating an intimate relationship between the viewer and the artwork, as well as the artist who created it.

But apart from the great technological leap, the further effects are that the museum opens the doors to all those who cannot afford a trip and ticket to the Louvre or to other famous museums. Students and people from diverse cultures can also learn about the artworks, the artists and their historical context when they were created. The artworks are suspended away from the walls, which makes it possible for the visitors to go around them and see them in all their parts.

Photo via Kremer Museum
Photo via Kremer Museum

Viewing the back of these old paintings is like looking into its passport where one discovers its journey through marks over time, personal notes, stamps, or even scars. It's a very intimate experience that would get you in trouble at the Louvre” describes the effect Johan van Lierop, the architectural designer of the vision.

Knowing that this step of innovation would bring about many challenges and changes, it is worthwhile to know how the idea to implement VR into the collection of old masters came about.

Joel Kremer, the director of the Kremer Collection, had a great chance to combine his passion and professional experience by combining his own IT background working at Google, with his bond to art through his parents’ private collection.

I first had the idea whilst reading about Facebook's acquisition of a kickstarter project (online crowdfunding), called Oculus. They had bought this company and were about to release a newly developed headset for consumers called the Rift. As I follow these things quite closely since my work period at Google, I saw a pattern; all of a sudden all the big tech companies were getting into 3D projects via VR and AR (augmented reality).

My frustration with the internet with regards to our collection had always been that all these fantastic models to reach people would cost money and would bring our online visitor to our website or a mobile application. Even though our site is great for art enthusiasts, because it has a lot of information and imagery, for most people it's still a flat online experience. With VR coming to the consumer, would it be possible to create an art experience, much like a museum, that felt real and enabled you to see the art up close within that experience?” describes Kremer the background and motivation of the vision.

Photo via Kremer Museum
Photo via Kremer Museum
He brought the idea up to his parents and started to look for companies who had the same vision. Eventually it was Moyosa Media from Holland with whom their visions came together, and they started to develop the ideas in a collaboration. Moyosa Media presented a proof of concept within only 3 months and the complete built of the museum as it is today, took them to realize 11 months from start to finish. The design was done by Johan van Lierop, architect and designer.

As with all new out of the box innovations, there were plenty of challenges on the way from vision to realization. The major challenges in developing had a lot to do with shooting the images for the museum.

We used a technique called photogrammetry, which basically means you take thousands of pictures from different angles to try and create a 3D model of the painting. In total we took around 80,000 pictures in 3 weeks of shooting. The challenge came when we saw that the flash batteries were overheating from all those pictures. So I bought industrial sized bags of ice cubes online and we put the batteries in double garbage bags, into the ice to keep them cool and we could continue shooting. Those are great stories to think back to!” tells us Kremer.

Another technological challenge was to make the user experience as flawless as possible, while processing a lot of data into a commercial phone or headset, which has limited storage and processing power. To achieve an experience close to reality, the colouring was also a huge focus for the project.

At the end, our art is about visuals and colours and the magic these masters produced with that” says Kremer.

Photo via Kremer Museum
This unique example of opening up and creating bridges, brings with itself lots of new opportunities and changes in the way art is experienced and made available to many more people around the world. When asked why is it worth to discuss and develop more technologies to be included in the art world as well, Kremer highlights how the online experience often can teach more than real life.

You can take your time, zoom in, look again and discuss a piece whenever you feel like it, whereas the traditional model requires you to travel to the museum, possibly buy a scheduled ticket, and spend some time with the art piece, but chances are that with the more popular pieces, you will be disturbed by other visitors. That's of course not to say that a digital experience is better than an offline one; it's just very often more accessible and flexible” explains Kremer.

The Internet has made the world a smaller place in terms of spreading information. From an art lover’s point of view getting closer and learning more about the art that one is interested in, gains more meaning since the information is anyway out there. From websites and mobile apps, to initiatives such as the Google Art Project and now the newest technologies (AR, VR, AI), which are used to show and create art, more and more people can become experts by just reading and looking at art online.

According to Kremer, from the museum and collector’s point of view, today more than ever before, they should think in terms of a global audience instead of sticking too much to their location based visitors, who are of course a fraction of their potential. The online visitor will give them more information, is more reachable and often more engaged, and probably returns more often. This gives unprecedented opportunities for marketing, community building, education and of course also revenue.

Photo via Kremer Museum
Photo via Kremer Museum

The future of art is forever changing and so does the way we see and experience it. In Kremer’s point of view, it is through technology that every aspect of art is already and will continue to change in the future.

From research and preservation, to exhibitions online and offline. It will enable us to learn more about art pieces and experience art in a much richer way than ever before by enriched storytelling both on- and offline” describes it Kremer.

The art and artworks will remain the center point, he continues around this cycle of thought, but technology will tell the story in much more visual ways. The ways and options of using technology are many, and are continuously developed further from interactive apps on our mobile phones, digital layers viewed through screens and glasses and many more.

The building of bridges between culture, art and people continues at the Kremer Museum, it does not stop with the VR technology. The next leap of faith is to release the museum experience into a mobile phone and tablet experience.

Anyone with their AR enabled iPhones, iPads and Android devices will be able to walk through the museum using their device as a magic see-through window into the digital experience...pretty cool” concludes enthusiastically Kremer.

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