Using an app on phones or tablets will allow gallery goers to see modern-day updates of paintings.

In an effort that combines cutting edge technology and some of its best known portraits, the Art Gallery of Ontario is launching ReBlink, an exhibit that uses augmented reality to lets visitors see modern-day updates to paintings.

Created by Toronto digital artist Alex Mayhew and his team at Impossible Things, it uses an app that gallerygoers can download on their phones or on tablets that the gallery will provide. It provides a vision of what the artists think the subject would be doing if the painting were made today.

For example, take The Marchesa Casati, one of the AGO’s best known portraits. With the app, the red-haired aristocrat is holding a selfie stick, like a modern-day celebutante.

Proponents of augmented reality (AR) say it can provide digital context to the world around us, although in this case it can also seem like a gimmick to entice millennials to use technology.

“There is a real contradiction or dichotomy to this. There is an issue in museums of people walking past paintings and, when people stop, the average time is 15 seconds. With the Instagram generation, with mobile phones, that problem is getting worse and worse,” explains Mayhew.

“We’re trying to get people to stop, pause, have a look, use the intervention of understanding the paintings that they may not otherwise have a connection with. But the irony of it all is that we’re using mobile phones and technology to facilitate that. We want to increase engagement levels through technology rather than making the situation worse.”

Both virtual and augmented reality have the potential to change entertainment.

VR is expensive and requires powerful computers and headsets that can transport you to digital worlds. AR is different in that it involves digital representations seen in the context of the real world. Some feel its potential is greater than VR because it requires less technology and could have lots of applications, from virtual signage to new ways of conveying information and, of course, games.


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