When I first tried VR – an original Oculus developer headset at a developer conference – I thought it could be a great learning tool that could give anyone and everyone a piece of the real world. Yes, smashing things with virtual sabers can be fun, but it’s also important to use technology as a tool that makes the world a better place.
That’s exactly what The Stolen Art Gallery does, and it does it very well.
The Stolen Art Gallery: What is it?
Since this isn’t a shooter or any other popular VR game, it’s worth talking about what The Stolen Art Gallery is.
Hundreds of paintings have been stolen over the years, and artists such as Rembrandt and Manet have created beautiful works that the world will likely never see again.
The folks at Compass UOL have recreated these works in digital form and built a small interactive gallery to showcase them. Thoughtful additions like the ability to watch them together with friends or share your experiences via social media make everything that little bit more fun.
Of course, every gallery exhibition also has to teach us more about the work on display. At The Stolen Art Gallery each painting comes with an information plaque telling you who the artist was, the medium, the year it was created and a description of the work itself.
In addition, you can learn more about the artist and the work through a virtual tour guide. This is very similar to what you would find in a physical art gallery.
The Stolen Art Gallery: What I Loved
Admittedly, I’m not the world’s biggest fan of visual arts. I appreciate it, and a trip to the National Gallery or the Freer Gallery of Art is a great way to spend a summer Saturday, but I don’t live and breathe the fine arts like many others. That doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate and enjoy a beautiful piece of work or the excellent way it is presented.
And that, in a nutshell, is exactly what I love about The Stolen Gallery. Little did I know great works were stolen and not found, and I was eager to learn more about them. The Android app is great and just as informative as the Quest version, but the extra immersion that VR adds has made this app an instant favorite.
The controls add greatly to the experience. Because it’s VR, you’re literally touching things with a virtual finger, and learning more about a painting is as easy as tapping the info button or the button to hear the presenter tell you all about it work told.
You can easily access additional functions, such as air drawing or social sharing, by tapping on your virtual watch and a corresponding icon. There is no user manual or tutorial because you really don’t need one. Everything is presented in a way that is easy to understand and use, and I think that’s the mark of a great app.
The Stolen Art Gallery: An excellent accessibility tool
As far as my disability goes, I’m very fortunate. Yes, I would love to be able to walk and run and play softball like I used to, but being in a wheelchair doesn’t stop me from having a comfortable life because I have wonderful people to help me. Not everyone is so lucky.
Some people are forced to be left behind and left alone because they don’t have such a great network of support, and for them VR can be a way to live a little. It’s hard for someone to imagine what life can be like when you’re stuck at home; Doing this for six months to stave off a global pandemic has brought out the worst in many of us, because no one likes to be left out of life.
That’s the very best thing about The Stolen Art Gallery: it can give someone who would never be able to see the fine arts in a gallery setting the opportunity to do so. The fact that these are the rarest works because they have been removed from the art world is also a bonus.
I challenge every tech company to build something like The Stolen Art Gallery. Compass UOL is tiny compared to giants like Google, Facebook or Apple, but they’ve done an incredible job here. We need more of this.
The Stolen Art Gallery: What I didn’t like
There are two things I didn’t like about the app, but one of them is completely out of the developer’s hands.
We’ll start there – Meta’s Quest “Space” setup sucks for anyone without full freedom of movement. Defining the boundaries is almost impossible unless you can rotate a full 360 degrees; The headset keeps seeming to forget the ground level you’ve set, and even if everything works and you set it up, you’ll likely run into instances where apps just mess up and ignore everything until you restart them.
It would be easy to blame every app I’ve tried, but Occam’s razor tells me the only point of failure – the Quest 2’s operating system and setup – is the likely culprit.
In any case, I came across parts of The Stolen Gallery app that made me wish I could just stand up and tap something that was only out of range.
The second is that I want more! The Stolen Art Gallery is showing five lost works displayed in amazing detail and it’s the first time I’ve really thought about a metaverse. Since the app piqued my interest, I found out that there are hundreds of other paintings that have been stolen or lost and I’d love to see as many as I can.
The Stolen Art Gallery: Should You Install It?
The Stolen Art Gallery is free to install and use from Google Play, The Oculus Store (although it is currently still in early open beta) and Apple’s App Store. Of course, the VR version offers the best experience, but you don’t need a VR headset to take a look.
Unless you are an art historian will to learn something. Even then, you can enjoy seeing masterpieces you would never otherwise get to see, all in high definition right before your eyes.
If you’re not able to see a “real” art gallery, trust me when I tell you this is almost as good. In addition to everything I said above, you should know that an hour at The Stolen Gallery is a great way to spend your next free Saturday.