By Dimitri Rhodes and Mariana Gomes
February 17th 2022. Artist KAWS’ new exhibition is set to become the most attended show in history – if one counts both offline and online visitors. Mixing physical, augmented, and virtual reality elements, the London-based showcase is the most recent example of the growing virtual art industry.
On the 18th of January, the Serpentine North Gallery opened all its doors – physical and virtual – to visitors eager to set eyes, and phone cameras, on its new exhibition, KAWS: New Fiction. The multi-dimensional project is accessible to audiences in parallel realities, making it the first of its kind to bridge the gap between the virtual and physical worlds simultaneously on the same scene.
In its physical presentation, the London gallery boasts KAWS’ new sculptures and paintings, while visitors have the additional option to download an augmented reality (AR) application developed by Acute Art. Through the app, visitors can use their smartphone cameras to view additional pieces within the museum that only exist in a virtual space. Furthermore, they can use the app at home, interacting with AR elements wherever they go.
“Looks really exciting to have such a big player thinking about AR as a tool for the art”, says Samuel Rodrigo, a London-based virtual reality artist. Rodrigo works with a VR headset and control to paint pictures “into the air”. “It is like working with clay, but the piece exists in the virtual world”, he explains.
As a person who got into art through virtual reality, he says: “What I’m most excited about is seeing VR and AR used by people who have come from the traditional world, so KAWS is a good example”.
Click here for a sneak peek into the future!
Cultural institutions that used to deal with traditional fine art are now looking into ways of re-engaging people with new technology.
Serpentine Galleries have also partnered with game studio Epic Games to mirror their exhibition inside Fortnite, an online game with over 350 million players. As the predominant digital playground for young people, the integration of Serpentine’s gallery exponentially increased the audience for KAWS’ exhibition. Gamers around the world can find the virtual museum in the game’s main menu, or with a special code.
Moreover, virtual reality is not only a game-changer for the survival of museums but artists as well, according to Kinga Király, a designer working with virtual reality and co-founder of a Danish incubator for creatives.
She says that virtual reality makes selling virtual art, also known as crypto art, more accessible to artists around the world: “Artists have the freedom to build their own exhibitions on their own terms, with software like ArtSteps, instead of waiting around for curators or museums.”
In addition, art in virtual spaces breaks down material barriers. Samuel Belaisch, a student of architecture in Paris, experiments with virtual architecture under the name Le Musa. Particularly in this domain, in which material is constantly needed to build models and prototypes, virtual projects help artists save on money, time, and resources. “Barriers to entry linked to physical materials necessary to produce art, as well as physical limitations to the transport of said art, completely evaporate”, Belaisch explains.
Open until the 27th of February, KAWS’ exhibition shows that art is no longer bound by physical necessity. Artists are embracing new realities, Belaisch concludes: “Virtual spaces are effective means of expression, exchange, and communication for an artist”.