The much-anticipated Art of London cultural initiative launches on 6th May 2021, a new campaign for the West End and the start of a season of public art for the area. After what has been a tumultuous 14 months for everyone associated with arts and culture, Art of London represents a much-needed injection of energy, enthusiasm and innovation at a time when cultural institutions and venues across the city are tentatively preparing to reopen.
This programme begins with the Art of London Augmented Gallery, a high-profile collaboration between the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Royal Academy of Arts and Sky Arts. Together, these institutions are exhibiting a diverse selection of classic and contemporary masterpieces across some of London’s most familiar streets and cityscapes. The interactive art trail begins at the National Gallery, then takes in the likes of St Martin’s Lane, Cecil Court and Princes Arcade before concluding at Fortnum & Mason on Piccadilly.
The augmented reality experience itself is created by Playlines AR Studios who have worked closely with Premier and Heart of London Business Alliance to bring 20 iconic works of art to the streets. The AR technology Playlines used to design the app experience grew out of their AR prototyping during Playlines’ residency at National Gallery X in 2020.
Ahead of the launch of the Augmented Gallery, Playlines’ Creative Director, Rob Morgan, said:
“I think this project demonstrates the value to galleries of being able to showcase their collections outside of the boundaries of their physical premises. By using the app and scanning QR codes, these pieces of art can be encountered on the streets. AR unlocks all of these possibilities – not limited by wall space or word count. Instead, the digital dimension can add other perspectives.
Playlines’ Executive Producer, Muki Kulhan added, “We really wanted to make sure that we could provide in-real-world experiences that have AR layered on top of them, bringing culture to the public in a safe and accessible way.
“We know that people are still anxious at the moment but that shouldn’t stop them from experiencing art. The aim of the Augmented Gallery was to make art available to everyone – and that’s why we’ve been particularly strict about ensuring that the installations have catered for mobility, visual and hearing impairments.
Alluding to the growth of QR code usage over the course of the pandemic, Muki says,
“Over the last year we’ve had a chance to test out Augmented Reality tools for arts and culture audiences, running focus groups with a variety of age demographics, including the over 65s. The response we’ve had from these users was extremely positive and showed that people are more comfortable than ever using their own devices to engage with AR experiences.”
From Titian to van Gogh to Tracey Emin the exhibition has a piece for everyone from the avid art lover to the general passer-by. The trail also features contemporary portraits of famous faces including Sir Tom Jones, Elaine Paige and Nile Rodgers. To complement the AR artworks themselves, the Art of London Augmented Gallery app features insightful and entertaining audio commentaries on each of the classic paintings from gallery curators. Or, for a lighter touch, further audio commentary is provided by James Acaster and Stephen Mangan.
Asked about the most enjoyable aspect of working on this innovative project, Muki said, “I’m proud of so much about this project but I think the way that we’ve been able to build close working relationships with these museums and work so successfully together is a testament to everyone’s hard work and willingness to collaborate.”
And asked to reflect on his own favourites from the project, Rob said, “Tracey Emin at Piccadilly Circus has to be a highlight for me. But, also, I have to mention the paintings contributed by the Royal Academy. Two of the works are from the founding female members and all are from female artists – we are proud to be able to showcase their talents in this gallery.
About the author – Tim Deakin
Tim Deakin is a journalist and editorial consultant working with a broad range of online publications.