The Cantor teams up with augmented reality for Art++ exhibit

Sept. 16, 2016, 9:30 a.m.

Augmented Reality (AR) makes another appearance as Stanford students have created a mobile AR app for the Art++ Technology and Art Lab on exhibit at Cantor Arts Center from July 13 to Sept. 26.

The Art++ exhibit is an experiment investigating the potential of AR within the museum context. The app itself identifies artwork using a camera and provides extra visual information about the identified piece. Although the exhibit is not the first to adopt a museum-oriented AR app, it will help determine the future of AR within the museum going world, according to Art++ curatorial assistant Maria del Carmen Barrios-Giordano ’13.

“Augmented reality is likely going to be a technology with widespread uses,” said Bernd Girod, professor of electrical engineering and founding director of the Brown Institute for Media Innovation. “It’s a part of the future museum experience [too].”

When visitors enter the 11’ by 18’ gallery, they receive a tablet with the Art++ app. On the walls of this small gallery are a diverse set of artworks, ranging from a historic painting of the Alhambra to an Andy Warhol print of Mao Zedong. When visitors scan a piece with the tablet’s camera, they will be given extra information through pictures and slideshows. AR technology superimposes the visual information onto the artwork itself, allowing for more direct comparisons. For instance, when an artwork depicting a room with many antiques is scanned, the app superimposes a picture of the actual antique on top of its appearance within the painting.

“[The exhibit] tells interesting stories about the artwork that would ordinarily not be told in a regular museum setting,” Barrios-Giordano said.

Instead of providing just textual information about a scanned artwork, the app uses technology to enhance the visual experience, according to Barrios-Giordano. Another piece depicts a gallery full of artwork, including a small rendition of the famous painting Venus of Urbino. When the app identifies the painting of the gallery, the app shows a picture of the actual Venus of Urbino.

Conception of the Art++ app came about in a conversation between Girod and Connie Wolf, the former director of the Cantor. According to Girod, the initiative gained the Cantor’s support, as “[Wolf] was very interested in exploring [AR] given that the Cantor… can serve as a lab for new museum experiences.”

The idea was then picked up by a team of Stanford students in 2014. They were led by Barrios-Giordano and electrical engineering Ph.D. student Jean-Baptiste Boin.

Boin, who was in charge of the technical aspects regarding the app, noted that much of the technical work was focused on making the AR technology fast and efficient so that it could be run on a mobile phone. The app’s initial prototype, which the team demonstrated to obtain funding from the Brown Institute, showed textual information regarding the artworks.

However, during the demo, the group “realized that the stories [the app] had were not that compelling,” Boin said.

The team then completely overhauled the app’s content. For the next iteration, the app would focus on utilizing AR’s unique visual characteristics. For instance, for one featured artwork that recently underwent conservation efforts, the AR app was able to run a slideshow of pictures of the painting as it underwent the entire process.

After the success of the new version, Barrios-Giordano decided that opening an exhibition would be the best way to launch the app, as the launch would be within a controlled environment.

According to Barrios-Giordano, reception has been strong overall. During the exhibition’s first two weeks, about 3,100 visitors have arrived in the Cantor. During that same time, there have been about 1,000 app uses.

“If we assume that each use [of the app] means one distinct user, we could say that roughly a third of visitors have used our [Art++] app,” Barrios-Giordano said.

Cantor has plans to perform an internal evaluation of the exhibition once the Art++ exhibition closes. While Barrios-Giordano hopes to use similar technology in other campus exhibit spaces, she said that Wolf’s sudden resignation from her position as director of Cantor may put a hold on future AR experimentations at Stanford.


Correction: A previous version of this article mistakenly used the term “alternative reality” instead of “augmented reality.” The Daily regrets this error.


Contact Christina Pan at capan ‘at’

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