May 2024

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Experiencing Art Immersion with the Vision Pro

About half a century ago, when I would walk home from junior high school, my path would take me past the newly opened Los Angeles County Museum of Art, a gleaming white complex of buildings located amid the famous tar pits of Hancock Park. Although I knew virtually nothing about art, it was a great place to interrupt my 45-minute homeward course: it was free, air-conditioned, and surprisingly welcoming to an unaccompanied adolescent with time on his hands. I was entranced by the array of works among which I could wander. For the first time, I became aware of artworks not as mere decorations hung on a wall but as made things: I could, for example, look at a realistic portrait of some old dude (boring!) or naked lady (not so boring!) and then get close enough to see the individual brush strokes that the artist had employed to create the illusion of reality that the canvas contained. It was literally an eye-opening experience.

Now the Art Authority Museum (a past TidBITS sponsor; see “Art Authority Sponsoring TidBITS,” 5 February 2024) makes it possible for anyone with an Apple Vision Pro to wander around an immersive art museum with holdings drawn from more than five centuries of the Western world’s classics. Strap on the Vision Pro, fire up the Art Authority Museum visionOS app, and tour through room after room of great art.

Art Authority Museum

Art Authority Museum provides a simple introductory screen with instructions for navigating the museum, links to seven rooms of art, and a directory of artists. The seven rooms organized by period are currently free for casual visitors, but the museum contains nearly 100 rooms, most focused on a particular artist, and those require a membership. There’s a 7-day free trial, after which Art Authority Museum costs $4.99 per month or $49.99 per year through the end of June, with the price rising to $9.99/$99.99 afterward.

Art Authority Museum menu

What does the casual visitor see? Big, uncluttered rooms with masterpieces hanging on the walls. You don’t have to navigate around other people or feel watched by guards—you always have the place to yourself. The museum is, as advertised, immersive: while you may be sitting on your sofa in the real world, in the virtual world, you’re standing in the museum surrounded by artwork. You can approach any artwork using simple eye and hand gestures or physically walk up to one.

(Warning: because Art Authority Museum is an immersive experience on the Vision Pro, you see the museum, not your actual surroundings, so you can easily stumble into whatever objects occupy your actual physical space. Unless you’re actually standing in a big empty room, it’s much less risky to use eye and hand gestures to move among the works.)

As I noted, each artwork is approachable as though it were actually hanging on a wall in front of you, and you can get as close as an arm’s length away. That’s close enough to make out the brush strokes of Seurat’s pointillist technique in “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.”

Seurat close-up

The virtual presentation isn’t always a complete win. Because Art Authority Museum provides an immersive, realistic presentation, you can’t examine an artwork from all angles, from top to bottom, as you could with a photo of a piece in a book. A tall painting in Art Authority Museum is virtually tall, so your closeup look is usually constrained to whatever you would see at eye level in a physical museum. In other words, you’re limited to walking around; you don’t get to levitate. Perhaps a feature for a future version. On the other hand, each piece feels like an actual artwork hanging on a wall rather than a picture hemmed in by text in a book. The experience is qualitatively different.

A wall-mounted placard accompanies each work and provides details such as the title, artist, provenance, medium, and date. Tapping the placard expands it so you can read additional details.

Art Authority Museum placard

Aside from the floating information windows, the immersive presentation is remarkably detailed and faithful: the illusion of standing in an actual art museum is solid, except that there are no other patrons to obstruct your view or make you feel uncomfortable for lingering too long in front of an artwork. The immersive illusion also allows you to perceive the actual scale of the works. You can see, for example, how much smaller da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” is compared to Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus.”

For casual visitors who want a quick look at some fine art in an immersive experience, the free access to the Lobby and period rooms plus the 7-day free trial is sufficient. On the other hand, the cost for a month of visits is low, especially in comparison to the Vision Pro itself, but also when set against the cost of admission at many leading museums, which can range from $10 to $30. And that’s before paying for parking and getting lunch. For the Vision Pro owner interested in art, membership allows you to relax among great art whenever you want.

Art Authority Museum is also a 1.0 product, and the company plans to add additional works and features over time to make a paid membership much more attractive. I could imagine wanting to move paintings around so you could curate your own experience or create a room of your favorites. Or maybe you could “borrow” a few favorites to hang on the virtualized walls of your real house. Plus, although the placards are informative, audio tours and detailed discussions of each painting from art history professors might deepen the experience.

In any case, if you have a Vision Pro and a desire to spend some time wandering among great artworks unimpeded by crowds and distractions, it’s well worth devoting a few hours to visiting the Art Authority Museum.

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