Smithsonian Art Museum, Intel Partner on Three VR Exhibits

The Smithsonian American Art Museum has partnered with Intel to create a room-scale VR demo of the art in one wing, for the enjoyment of far-flung art lovers. To produce the immersive experience, the two partners relied on studios including V.A.L.I.S., Framestore, xRez and 8i. The demonstration consists of three interactive experiences, and is a good case study on how museums can utilize virtual reality to extend their relationship with the public. Other museums, such as the British Museum, have also experimented with VR.

Engadget reports that, “Framestore handled the interactivity side of things while Intel provided a powerful Xeon-equipped rig to construct the demo,” with “a combination of laser scanning and photogrammetry (creating 3D models from 2D photographs).” The end result looked “slightly unpolished and rough around the edges … like what you’d expect from an indie video game.”


The three exhibits are “the painting Aurora Borealis by Frederic Edwin Church, the bronze Adams Memorial sculpture by Augustus Saint-Gaudens and a doorway that led to the three-screened video installation Face in the Crowd by Alex Prager.”

What made the experience work for this reviewer was that, “it was more than just a quick tour.” “I was able to walk around the space, thanks to room-scale VR, and take a closer look at the pieces,” he said. “As I approached them, descriptive text appeared, similar to what you’d read on the cards you’d typically find in an exhibit.”

The exhibits also offered an immersive experience. “When I leaped into the painting, I found myself viewing a 360-degree video of the aurora borealis in Iceland,” he said. “Leaping into the bronze sculpture brought me to a digital recreation of the actual Adams Memorial in Washington, D.C., where I found myself surrounded by trees and birds. Hopping into the Face in the Crowd exhibit placed me in a black room with three walls playing video, just like you’d see in an actual museum.”

The latter piece “explores moments of quiet contemplation among strangers in large groups,” and the reviewer found it “especially moving in VR.”

It’s not clear if the Smithsonian plans to pursue the demo and create an experience it can release to the general public. “While the Smithsonian’s VR experience is clearly just a first step for the museum, it’s incredibly promising,” he said. “I hope this experience finds its way to the public somehow — it’s not only a solid VR demo but also a model for other museums to follow.”

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