READING: Forget the Met, New York is Now Its Own Museum
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GREAT ART TRANSCENDS TIME, but should it transcend space too? With augmented reality (AR) on the rise, the virtual dimension is becoming just as significant as our physical one, and it’s ripe for creative expression.

Apple certainly agrees. On 10 August, the tech giant launched [AR]T Walk, an AR art tour curated in partnership with New York’s New Museum. Set against cityscapes around the world, the project spotlights the virtual creations of seven contemporary artists: Nick Cave, Nathalie Djurberg, Hans Berg, Cao Fei, John Giorno, Carsten Höller and Pipilotti Rist.

Nick Cave’s “Amass” AR installation is on view in Apple stores around the world.

"International Liquid Finger Prayer”, Pipilotti Rist
"Through", Carsten Höller
"Trade Eden", Cao Fei
Digital artist Sarah Rothberg teaches attendees how to create their own AR experiences at Apple’s [AR]T Lab.
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“Now at the Dawn of My Life", by John Giorno, AR artwork
“Now at the Dawn of My Life”, John Giorno.

An Immersive Tour on Foot

But [AR]T Walk doesn’t merely showcase static visuals. Instead, in the vein of AR games like Pokémon Go and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, it features moving, mutating forms that interact with their environment. Picture Cave’s vibrant Soundsuits roaming the streets of New York, or Giorno’s punchy aphorisms floating in the sky.

The experiential tour is free and open to the public in San Francisco, New York, London, Paris, Hong Kong and Tokyo. Each [AR]T Walk begins in an Apple store and continues out on the streets, where visitors — equipped with iPhones and headphones — are guided through the different installations. 

Some of these are interactive: Fei’s “Trade Eden” lets visitors try their hand at moving packages within a fantastical factory; Höller’s “Through” flattens viewers’ surrounding environment, encouraging them to explore a colourless world through their screens. Others, like Djurberg and Berg’s clay animation, “This is It”, feature a narrative that unfolds in real time. 

On top of [AR]T Walk, Apple has also unveiled [AR]T Lab, a series of free Today at Apple sessions where participants can learn to create their own AR experiences. These are crafted in partnership with Sarah Rothberg, a digital artist and a member of New Museum’s art and tech incubator.

Turning Major Cities into Virtual Galleries

“Augmented reality is a medium ripe for dynamic and visual storytelling,” shares New Museum director, Lisa Phillips. “[It] can extend an artist’s practice beyond the studio or the gallery and into the urban fabric.” 

Apple isn’t the first to tap onto AR to bring art out into “the urban fabric”. Last year, Samsung’s re:imagine Street ARt launched several pop-up galleries throughout Berlin, each featuring an art installation that visitors could interact with through an app on their Samsung smartphones.

Earlier experiments with AR and public art were not quite as hands-on. In 2017, Jeff Koons collaborated with Snapchat to virtually display his famous steel balloon sculptures in tourist hotspots around the world, including the Eiffel Tower and Trafalgar Square. A year before, American artist Ivan Toth Depeña introduced Lapse, a mobile AR app that reveals multimedia art ranging from murals to prose all across Miami. In both cases, the art are strictly for viewing, much like in a museum.

Samsung’s “re:imagine Street ARt” at Berlin Art Week 2018

Djurberg and Berg’s clay animation, “This is It”.
“This Is It” by Djurberg and Berg

Please Do Not Retouch the Art

The fact that these AR-artworks weren’t just displayed in museums is telling. AR has had a complicated history with art institutions, peppered with unauthorised gallery takeovers (the MoMAR app is a notable culprit) and complaints about insensitive visitors who toy with the technology within the hallowed halls. Let’s not forget all those appalling incidents of artworks destroyed by engrossed smartphone users. 

Outdoors is clearly the more sensible locale for AR-art. Unsurprisingly, AR has already proven popular among street artists. Brazil’s Eduardo Kobra and British artist INSA were some of the first to adopt the technology to bring their graffiti to life. And much like their creative practice, AR-art is democratising the art experience. Anybody can participate — as long as they have the right tools.

Find out more about [AR]T Walk and [AR]T Lab here