Last week, as I walked through Downtown Santa Monica, a flashy storefront on the side of the street caught my eye. The sign in front read “3DAR Art Museum”. My eyes widened at the beautiful graphics displayed in front of the building: huge dinosaurs looming over museum-goers, magical worlds seemed to be unfolding just beyond those swinging doors. But, as I began to talk with the employee out front, I was soon disappointed to find out what this experience really was.
Visitors would download an app to their phones and be able to take pictures with AR elements, triggered by hovering the phone in front of a picture on the wall. It was cool, but I knew how much more potential Augmented Reality experiences held. This experience, though new and exciting to many, barely even touches the level of interaction that XR can unlock for museum visitors. It scrapes the surface, but offers little to no new experiences to the way that we use our senses to engage with artwork. And so, it was then that I decided that for this week I would explore the implementations of XR in museum exhibits around the world: the good cases, the bad cases, and whatever lies in between.
The point of a museum is to engage visitors in some way, to have them take away a piece of the experience with them after they leave, whether this be knowledge, a newfound interest, a new perspective, etc. It is an experience that visitors must travel to, wait in lines for, buy tickets to- it has to have an impact. There is no point to a museum experience if it can be recreated at home. That’s where many AR-enhanced exhibits fall short. They do not introduce enough interaction between the technology and the user to create a memorable moment. One museum experience that has received such criticism is Unreal City developed in Seoul. The company that created this museum app attempted to create an immersive experience around the art of London, using AR. Cool idea, just unoriginal. The criticism of this experience centered around its lack of innovation and engagement with users, as well as its failure to make use of AR’s full potential. Eron Raunch, an LA-based artist even commented on it, saying “most of the works feel as if they have little interest outside of looking like a cool Snapchat filter” (MuseumNext.com). The problem here was that there really was no need for AR in the experience they were creating; it felt like an add-on, just trying to tempt people to buy tickets by using catchy phrases. Don’t get me wrong, there are many examples of ground-breaking execution in the XR space when it comes to Museum Exhibits. The Paris National Museum of Natural History features an exhibition by the name of ‘The Cabinet De Réalité Virtuelle’, a room dedicated entirely to a Virtual Reality experience (MuseumNext.com). This one in particular details the history of human evolution. This exhibit doesn’t just place AR objects in front of a wall, it transports visitors through time, allowing them to dive into history to lengths unthought of in the traditional museum experience.